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plants grow healthier and produce higher yields. The Columbus, OH-based startup has also developed a patent-pending delivery system for these microbes. Soy and corn are 3Bar’s first targets because those are the crops that Ohio State had researched, explains CEO Bruce Caldwell. The company would need to conduct additional research to expand to other crops.
—Agile Sciences. Based on research from North Carolina State University, the Raleigh, NC, startup has developed an antibacterial compound derived from the bacteria-fighting secretions of marine sponges. Daina Zeng, Agile’s microbiology group leader says this compound could fight bacterial diseases, such as citrus canker and geranium blight, which cost farmers billions of dollars each year. Agile’s tests found that this compound, called Agilyte, was not toxic to plants and could be used in combination with existing crop treatments. Agile has raised $14 million in funding to date. Agilyte still needs to complete U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registration before going to market, a process that could take several years.
—Apse. John Killmer, CEO of St. Louis-based Apse, says his company offers a “non-GMO way to do GMO things.” The company’s technology bio-engineers plants without genetically modifying the organism, a feat accomplished through RNA interference, a natural process in which RNA inhibits gene expression. Killmer says this approach targets a single gene, resulting in specific effects. For example, the technology could target only crop pests, leaving benign insects unaffected. But RNA is expensive. Apse aims to overcome that hurdle with a technology that can manufacture large volumes of RNA at low cost.
—Aptimmune Biologics. Champaign, IL-based Aptimmune is developing mucosal vaccines, which the company says will offer better delivery and a better immune response. The company’s first vaccine targets are porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) and influenza, two infections that the company says costs the U.S. swine industry more than $1.4 billion annually. The company is currently pursuing a $6 million Series B round.
—Benanova. Raleigh-based Benanova, a spinout from NC State, has developed a nanoparticle technology that it says can reduce the amount of chemicals required for crops. Compared to conventional spraying, CEO Hinton Armstrong says that products sprayed with Benanova’s technology deposit better and spread better on plants. The technology could cut down on “vapor drift,” the vaporization of a spray, such as herbicide, which then wafts away and requires farmers to use more of the chemical. That vapor is wasted product that drifts to fields not targeted by the chemicals, posing risks to plants and wildlife. Benanova is seeking seed funding and a partner for agrochemical studies.
—Cocoon Biotech. The Boston company has developed a way to use silk protein for drug delivery. Silk is biodegradable and offers the potential for long-term dosing because the protein can release its drug payload over an extended period of time, CEO and founder Ailis Tweed-Kent says. The Tufts University spinout is eyeing veterinary applications; delivering arthritis drugs to the achy joints of horses is its first target. But Tweed-Kent says that the company’s technology platform could eventually expand to drugs addressing other conditions. Cocoon expects to file an investigational new animal drug application next year.
—EpiBiome. The South San Francisco-based startup’s technology identifies problem bacteria and develops bacteriophages—viruses that infect bacteria without harming mammalian cells—that can target the pathogen. EpiBiome’s first target is mastitis in dairy cows. Lucia Mokres, EpiBiome’s chief medical officer, says that the technology has the potential for reducing antibiotics use in cows. EpiBiome has tested its technology in mice and expects to start cow testing in the coming months.
—Genoverde Biosciences. The Amherst, MA-based startup says it has developed a way to genetically modify plants to increase yield. Genoverde, which co-founder and CEO Michael Harrington says translates as “green gene,” is eyeing the forest products industry as its first target. Harrington says Genoverde’s technology can engineer trees to produce up to 20 percent more wood density, which means it produces more wood and captures more carbon dioxide. The patent-pending technology was originally developed at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
—Mazen Animal Health. Farm animals are vaccinated the same way as people—a hypodermic needle. Mazen says it has developed a way to produce vaccines that can be added to animal feed. CEO Jenny Filbey says that Mazen’s technology will eliminate problems with injectable vaccines, such as the need to keep them cold, the stress on the animals, and the occasional needle breaking off at the injection site. Filbey says Mazen’s oral vaccine will enable farmers to vaccinate more animals at a lower cost than injectable vaccines. Mazen’s first target is swine, and the company is raising a $5 million Series A round to bring its technology into animal testing.
—Mimetics. The Durham-based company’s computational biology technology from Duke University analyzes the biological processes of organisms and finds ways to interrupt them. Though the Mimetics technology has discovered a novel antifungal compounds with applications in agriculture, CEO David Reed says the scope of the company’s technology includes applications in human health, pharmaceuticals, and the food and beverage industries.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture under a Creative Commons license.