For as long as Icelanders have been fishing, fish skins have been a byproduct of little value. Kerecis, a company in Iceland's Westfjords region, is transforming discarded cod skins into a valuable medical device to heal human wounds.
Kerecis founder and CEO Guðmundur Fertram Sigurjónsson got the idea of using cod skin for wound care and tissue regeneration in 2010. His diverse background in engineering, medical devices, and technology led him to consider alternative approaches to the commonly used skin grafts from the patients themselves or other mammals.
Fertram knew that cod is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids—which help stimulate cell growth—and that Iceland had plenty of cod. After years of development and testing, Kerecis received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the EU to use cod skins to heal wounds. The company has conducted large-scale, comparative studies that confirmed the healing potential of the cod skin compared to alternate treatments.
When grafted onto damaged human tissue, the fish skin recruits the body's own cells, supporting its own ability to regenerate.
The cod skins offer several advantages over many traditional wound treatments. Because there is no risk of a viral disease transfer from Atlantic cod to people, the fish skin needs only mild processing for medical use and maintains its natural structure and elements, including its Omega3 fatty acids. The fish skin is sustainably sourced, cost-efficient to produce, and free of the religious and cultural barriers associated with other skin graft products.
The company's flagship product, Kerecis Omega3 Wound, has been used to successfully treat tens of thousands of patients worldwide. In the process, the use of fish skin grafts has prevented thousands of amputations. The company is working closely with the U.S. Department of Defense, as its Omega3-rich fish tissue can be used in the treatment of blast injuries and gun and burn wounds. Kerecis is also developing other products for surgical use in, for example, oral surgery, body-wall reconstruction, hernia repair, breast reconstruction, brain surgery, and obesity stomach reduction.
Kerecis has emerged as an internationally recognized innovator in biotechnology with operations in Iceland, the United States, Switzerland, and Germany, and sales in multiple international markets. Now with more than 150 employees worldwide, Kerecis is deeply rooted in Iceland. The Kerecis fish skin derives from sustainable fish stock caught in Icelandic waters. Manufacturing and quality control takes place in Ísafjörður, and R&D and corporate functions are in Reykjavík.
At the end of 2021, Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, Iceland's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation announced a collaborative effort between Kerecis and Egypt's charity Ahl Masr Hospital. Kerosene use is widespread for cooking in Egypt and, unfortunately results in many severe burns. "Serious fire trauma related to the use of kerosene in cooking are sadly all too common in Egypt, and one in three burn victims will end up in the hospital due to such injuries and die from their wounds," says Fertram, Founder and CEO of Kerecis. Kerecis will address the United Nations' Global Goals of health and well-being goals (Goal 3), gender equality (Goal 5), suitable employment and economic growth (Goal 8), and innovation and development (Goal 9) by treating burn victims. Minister Gylfadóttir says, "Kerecis' contribution is crucial for patients regardless of gender, age, and economic standing. However, most burn victims in Egypt are women and preschool-age children. By helping them heal, they can return to work or school and reduce long-term impairment, pain, anxiety, and exclusion due to disfiguration from burns. Treating victims promptly leads to increased employment and societal participation. This contribution by Kerecis is therefore significant and directly contributes to greater equality.
Kerecis was founded with the simple objective of harnessing nature's own remedies to extend life. Its manufacturing facility uses 100% renewable energy. Today, Kerecis is a pioneer as it transforms wound care in a sustainable way through its waste-to-value model.