TechAccel LLC, the private technology and equity development company in agriculture and animal health, announced its subsidiary RNAissance Ag LLC has completed an asset acquisition of RNAgri Inc., a Saint Louis-based ag biotech startup.
RNAgri has developed a platform for the cost-effective production of RNA for use in topical RNA-interference (RNAi) products, including biopesticides. RNAi is a technology that regulates gene expression without genetic modification.
Terms of the asset acquisition were not disclosed.
RNAgri, formerly doing business as APSE Inc., was founded in 2011 and was one of 33 startups to receive a $50,000 grant from the Missouri Technology Corporation’s Innovation, Development and Entrepreneurship Advantage (IDEA) program. The company was also supported by the St. Louis Biogenerator i6 Project, which was its first and largest investor. Other investors include The Yield Lab, the Helix fund, private investors and Allen Angel Capital Education Program (the student-managed angel fund of the University of Missouri at Columbia).
“This transaction marks a win for the growing biotechnology ecosystem in Missouri,” noted Michael Helmstetter, Ph.D., founder, president and CEO of TechAccel. “With these assets, TechAccel and RNAissance Ag will further accelerate the application of RNAi technology into crop and other biopesticide applications, in addition to targets in aquaculture and animal health.”
Since 2017,TechAccel and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center have partnered to advance a novel and proprietary pesticidal RNAi technology with broad pesticidal application. In January 2019, TechAccel founded the biopesticide startup RNAissance Ag with exclusive worldwide license to the technology.
The primary focus of RNAissance Ag is the development of sprayable RNA pesticides, including against pests such as the Diamondback Moth. No previous RNAi product has been effective against the Diamondback Moth, which is estimated to cause more than $4 billion in crop losses annually. The RNAgri platform will add manufacturing capacity to the pesticide design and development efforts.
RNAissance Ag will conduct multiple field trials this summer and fall on the Diamondback Moth and Fall Armyworm. The company has an expanding development pipeline targeting additional pests, and its designs also have applications as pesticidal traits in crop seeds.
With the asset acquisition, two of RNAgri’s associates have joined the RNAissance Ag team effective immediately. Anil Kumar, Ph.D., is a molecular biologist with expertise in genetics and plant breeding. Bert Berla, Ph.D., is a biochemical engineer with expertise in microbial improvement. RNAissance Ag has also completed additional investments in the RNAgri technology production infrastructure, and plans to expand facilities and staffing of the operation in St. Louis as additional projects are added.
RNAi pesticide technology is a safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to chemical pesticides. RNAi pesticides are designed to be highly specific to the target pest, are not toxic to other organisms and are biodegradable. Further, as many pests have become resistant to chemical pesticides, RNAi biopesticides employ a different mode of action and can be highly effective. The biopesticide market is growing and estimated to reach $10B worldwide by 2025.
TechAccel is pursuing a comprehensive strategy in RNAi development to advance biopesticides, including investment and collaboration with multiple RNA technology companies, such as GreenLight Biosciences. GreenLight, based in Medford, Mass., is a biotechnology company developing bioprocessed RNA products for human health and agriculture applications. TechAccel also announced collaborative research with AgroSpheres Inc. to explore its formulation technology in biopesticide delivery, and continues research in related areas, including novel means of delivery of RNAi into tree crops.
“These investments demonstrate our belief in the potential of RNAi to fundamentally change agriculture,” Helmstetter said. “We are committed to developing sustainable, safe and effective technology to prevent crop losses, increase yields and protect the environment.”
TechAccel, LLC, was founded in 2014 as a technology and venture development organization in the agriculture, animal health and foodtech sectors. TechAccel sources, acquires and invests in early-stage innovation. Through collaborations with universities and research institutions, TechAccel conducts advancement and de-risking research and development to ready technologies for market adoption and commercialization. TechAccel also makes equity investments in start-up companies through its Equity+TM program where an adjacent business opportunity exists. For more information, visit www.TechAccel.net.
About RNAissance Ag
RNAissance Ag LLC was formed in January 2019 by TechAccel. The company holds the exclusive license to proprietary RNAi technology developed at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center that has promise to be effective for insect pests that previously were considered resistant to RNAi.