August 31, 2016
How AgBiome is Using the Plant-associated Microbiome to Create Innovative Products for Agriculture
AgBiome is a biotech company with a specialization for the more more eco-friendly methodology of using microbe based products that are aimed at developing innovative improvements in agriculture. The company focuses on the plant biome, and its microscopic ecosystem, in search and discovery for elements that can be beneficially extracted for more large-scale uses.
For this biotech company, the primary mode of research is the sampling of symbiotic microbes in agriculturally relevant areas. The samples are then assayed against other determinants, classifying and identifying beneficial elements from the samples that can be used for further testing. The vast majority of AgBiome’s research and development program hinges on the proprietary system GENESIS. Standing for Gene and Strain Identification System, GENESIS identifies and classifies all known samples, providing a data-driven screening process to filter potential biologicals or traits that can then be developed and introduced as a commercial product.
AgBiome’s founder, Eric Ward, established the company using his decades of experience in the biotech industry as his foundation. Progressing from his roots in Syngenta (formerly Novartis/Zeneca) Eric has founded, directed, and guided a number of different biotech related startups, initiatives, and businesses within a span of almost three decades. This includes his very first startup, Cropsolution Inc., as well as other already established organizations such as the Two Blades Foundation and the North Carolina Sciences Organization. Under his guidance, this relatively newcomer to the biotech industry aims to rapidly provide and deliver practical solutions to agricultural markets worldwide.
Founded in 2012, AgBiome is currently based in Research Triangle Park, in North Carolina, completing its very first financing in 2013 through partnerships with several other international agricultural industry investors. The high profile of AgBiome’s special team of scientists and researchers, as well as its astounding achievements within the last few years, makes the company not just an asset to the agricultural market, but to the global scientific community as a whole.
Progress and Research
Despite being relatively new in both the agricultural market and biotechnology research, AgBiome has made significant strides both as a business entity and as a scientific institution.
On the development front, AgBiome is steadily promoting the importance of using the entire plant biome as a means to significantly improve farming methods. Objectives mostly include increasing crop yield to keep up with the ever increasing exponential food demands of the current century. Several of the company’s important R&D milestones include:
- By the end of 2014, AgBiome secured a partnership deal with Syngenta, taking the next steps to develop high-value trait products to protect specific crops critical to worldwide food consumption.
- In June 2015, AgBiome introduced its company, system and mission statement, as well as the importance of its growing research at the RTP 180 AgBio event.
- During mid-2015, Genective collaborated with the company with the objective of discovering new insect control traits to combat the growing resistance of crop pests to traditional preventive and extermination measures.
- In late 2015, one of the company’s founders and one of its scientists, Jeff Dangl and James Henriksen, collaborated with other researchers in the journal Science. The main topic addressed by their jointly written policy paper highlighted the importance of microbiome research in modern agriculture.
The company is currently focusing towards the eventual commercialization of its very first product, the Howler. Howler is described and advertised as a biological fungicide. It is a natural microbe that was developed to provide soilborne disease control to crop fields. It prevents the growth of fusarium wilt and soybean rust, as well as other major fungal pathogen-based diseases that affect a wide variety of economically important produce crops around the world. AgBiome prides the Howler as having the potency and efficiency of standard chemical-based fungicides, but without its side effects. In fact, the company claims the product to even have curative properties, allowing the restoration of already affected crops.
Funding, Development and Future
AgBiome completed its Series A funding of $14.5 million for its initiation project in 2013, securing investments with Polaris Partners, joined by ARCH Venture Partners, Harris & Harris Group, Innotech Advisers, Monsanto Growth ventures, Novozymes and Syngenta Ventures. The company also opened an undisclosed separate product development partnership with Syngenta in 2014, as well as with Genective in 2015.
With the completion of its Series B funding in mid-2015, the total funding for the project has increased to about $34.5 million. Series B funding included the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The University of Texas Investment Management Company (UTIMCO), Pontifax Global Food and Agriculture Technology Fund as well as all the other Series A funding investors.
AgBiome is currently spearheading its way towards the eventual global commercialization of its very first launch products. To this end, the company launched its first dedicated business unit, AgBiome Innovations, to assist the company in introducing its products to various related markets. This will include the aforementioned Howler, which is expected to gain its first sales before the end of the year.