Iceland’s first ‘unicorn’ is all about codfish skin

May 29, 2024 | Over the Bar, News

over the bar

By John Pappalardo

Just when you think you know what there is to know about fish, especially codfish, along comes another surprise:

Codfish skin has amazing medical properties that have nothing to do with nutrition.

Turns out that codfish skin and human skin have a lot of similarities in basic structure, which means that using cod skin to apply over stubborn wounds, burns, ulcers (diabetic and otherwise), surgical scars, even trauma injury can be a great alternative to other kinds of fabricated bandages. It replicates human skin, closes portals, and creates a better environment for the body to regenerate its own.

Cod is even better than surrogate material created out of human or pig skins because there is no chance of viral transfer between North Atlantic cod and people.

Sound like fishermen’s sci-fi? Maybe, but it’s true.

A scientist from Iceland by the name of Fertram Sigurjonsson first began experimenting with codskin brought home by fishermen on the Northwest coast of Iceland at a small town called Isafjordur as far back as 2007. Codskin could be manufactured in broad sterile patches, narrower strips, also smaller, bandaid-style. The more he worked on it the more promising it seemed, until in 2011 he and a team of scientists, investors and supporters applied to the US Food and Drug Administration for approval to bring codfish skin bandaging into the nation’s medical establishment.

The first application got a big No, and Sigurjonsson nearly went under, keeping his company alive by moving it into his living room.

But he kept proving concept, and by 2014 finally won both US and European approvals to begin offering products in hospitals, surgical suites, and burn units. By 2022 the company, named Kerecis, had secured $100 million in investment funding, key capital coming from the parent of Lego kids’ games. By year-end the company showed $85 million in revenue, a profitable bottom line, and 300 employees with facilities in the United States as well as Iceland.

Then in August of last year, a Danish investment company called Coloplast moved in and made a very big purchase:

They paid $1.3 billion – that’s a ‘b’ – to buy Kerecis.

In the venture capital world, when a start-up company is successful enough to become worth a billion dollars, it called a “unicorn.” Apparently Kerecis is the first and only unicorn born in Iceland.

A unicorn created from codfish skin is remarkable in its own right. What’s also intriguing is how this creative application once again proves how what we call “waste,” stuff cut away, discarded, landfilled, composted, can prove to be valuable, even lifesaving. Recycling and re-use have emerged in many forms, but this one really goes to a new level.

The saga also gets us to wondering whether demand for codfish skin and this medical innovation might grow and one day provide another form of revenue support to the fleet around here. Far as we know, there’s no difference between codfish skin in Iceland and codfish skin on this side of the North Atlantic, though unfortunately they have more (and bigger) cod to skin at this point than we do. Also the facilities necessary to create this sterile, uniform product must be more like hospital operating rooms than what we know to be fish processing plants.

But as Kerecis has proven, strange things happen, and brilliant people innovate. Even the skin of a codfish can prove both points true.

(John Pappalardo is CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance)




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