This article by Lynda Kiernan was originally published Jan. 24, 2019, at Global Ag Investing. Lynda Kiernan is Editor with GAI Media and daily contributor to GAI News.
As part of TechAccel’s strategy to address global crop losses through the development of safe, effective, and sustainable biopesticides, venture and agtech development company TechAccel has announced additional strategy investments.
Firstly, the launch of RNAissance Ag LLC (pronounced “Renaissance”) – a new company that holds in partnership with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri, exclusive license to proprietary RNA-interference technology for the development of sprayable insect controls.
More than $40 billion per year is spent on pest control, yet over 20 percent of all crops are still lost due to insect damage,” said James C. Carrington, Ph.D., president of the Danforth Center. “This new company is evidence of an exciting new technology advancing toward market with the potential to make a major impact.”
The new company was born of successful research conducted at the Danforth Center, one of the leading independent plant science centers in the world, funded through TechAccel’s first grain through the “Path to Commercialization” Program.
This work jointly developed by Bala Venkata, Ph.D., senior research scientist, Nigel Taylor, Ph.D., associate member, and Dorothy J. King Distinguished Investigator at the Danforth Center, is the foundation for the development of sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives to chemical agricultural inputs.
“An RNAi pesticide is highly specific to the target insect and is not toxic to other organisms,” said Michael Helmstetter, Ph.D. and founder, president, and CEO of TechAccel. “Further, we believe biopesticides can be more effectively applied than chemical sprays, reducing cost, waste and health risks to workers and the environment.”
Recently TechAccel advocated for the need for more venture capital investment in animal health and nutrition, publishing a map detailing nearly 250 leading companies in the plant and animal Ag Biotech space. TechAccel’s research shows that these companies have raised approximately $3.4 billion in total funding since they were founded, of which $500 million was in animal biotech and $2.9 billion in plant biotech.
Leading the charge at TechAccel (Technology Acceleration Partners) is Co-Founder, President, and CEO Dr. Michael Helmstetter. Helmstetter has over 30 years of experience working in agriculture, defense, and biotechnology industries.
“We are focused on a few specific areas – gene editing, including RNAi and epigenetics for improving traits; unlocking the secrets of the microbiome for biopesticides and improved nutrients; and deploying biotechnology for safer and more effective vaccines, feeds, and nutrients,” Helmstetter told GAI News in December 2017.
TechAccel also announced its participation in the latest funding round raised by GreenLight Biosciences Inc. in early January of this year.
Through controlling the biology of RNA, there is the ability to modulate biological processes, and when applied within agriculture, can lead to advances in crop management, plant protection, and pest control via a process called RNA interference (RNAi).
Headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, and with R&D facilities in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and St. Louis, Missouri, GreenLight has developed a novel, low-cost, cell-free production platform for the production of RNA, one of the basic components of life. Led by co-founder and CEO Andrey Zarur, GreenLight develops RNA products and works with industry leaders to provide solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges.
These two announcements are indicative of the various biopesticide research and development initiatives in which TechAccel is having a hand. Additional fronts being pursued include:
- Leveraging a stable nanoparticle technology licensed as a form of biopesticide delivery;
- Piloting the injection of RNAi compounds as a delivery mechanism in fruit and nut trees; and,
- Continuing development of a separate, novel RNAi biopesticide approach based on research underway in Europe.
Toward this end, TechAccel also recently announced a research collaboration with AgroSpheres Inc. to examine nanotechnology’s role in respect to biopesticide delivery. Although TechAccel did not disclose the specific biomaterials that will be studied, Brad Fabbri, Ph.D. and chief science officer for the company said, “We will examine AgroSpheres’ nanotechnology as a delivery mechanism for our proprietary materials for control of insects in the Lepidoptera order,” in a company statement released in November 2018.
In much the same strain, TechAccel will be working with GreenLight Biosciences in similar research.
“TechAccel and GreenLight are collaborating in efforts to accelerate the development, delivery and commercialization of RNA-based products to safely and sustainably address global pest control issues in agriculture,” said Helmstetter.