Psst! The latest bioeconomy flashes from Bayer, Gingko, BioAmber, Joule, TerraVia, Corbion, Phytelligence, DNA Script

September 14, 2017 |

While we’ve been busy fleeing Hurricane Irma, it’s been a busy week for the techies running the Digest’s Very Large Gossip Array —  the airwaves have been crackling as some familiar faces re-surface. Let’s review.

Bayer, Ginkgo’s $100 Million  Baby

News just arrived from Germany that Bayer and Ginkgo Bioworks will create a new company focused on the plant microbiome — specifically, improving the microbes’ ability to make nitrogen fertilizer available for plants offers a major potential benefit to sustainable agriculture. The deal provides a Series A investment of $100 million by its parent companies and Viking Global Investors LP.

The new company will focus on technologies to improve plant-associated microbes with a major focus on nitrogen fixation. While some crops such as soybeans, peas and other legumes can pair with specific microbes that live within the plant and fulfill their nitrogen needs, most other crops cannot. The endophytic microbes to be developed by the company aim to provide a platform to flexibly deliver new agronomic advantages.

BioAmber taps Eno as new CEO

From Montreal, news arrives that BioAmber has selected Richard P. Eno as its new CEO. Rick has been consulting for the past few years based out of Roland Berger, but was most visible to the industry during his long run as CEO of Metabolix during its years of its ADM joint venture and when it was focused on the renewable chemicals market.

In commenting on his new post, Eno noted that “The company’s bio-succinic technology operates superbly at scale, there is a rich pipeline of attractive customer opportunities, and a world class team in place.”

Phytelligence raises $11M, more to come

Up in Washington state, Phytelligence has raised another $5 million in its targeted $16 million Series B investment round — right now, the meter has topped $11.95M — the round is supposed to close this month. WRF Capital (investment arm of the Washington Research Foundation), Avrio Capital and the Cowles Company have been the major investors in this round.

Phytelligence is transforming the rootstock business via true-to-type plant material and shaves off meaningful time to saleable fruit— the technology platform is called MultiPHY and Phytelligence plants, says the company, have a less than 1 percent mortality rate, versus the 10-40 percent experienced by many growers. And ultimately, to grow up to faster with fewer inputs — we’ve seen claims around in global media of growing 5X faster — hmm, not sure about that but certainly reaching maturity much quicker with apples, cherries, peaches, and more would be a target for this Washington State spin-out.

TerraVia and Corbion: let’s get married

Another long-time industry leader in the news this week is Corbion CEO Tjerk de Ruiter, with the word that TerraVia has accepted Corbion’s stalking horse bid (for $20M and the assumption of liabilities) for the company’s assets. There had been quite a bit of speculation about potential bidders for TerraVia’s nutrition and industrials IP and on-ground assets in Brazil in its JV with Bunge.

Turns out, de Ruiter ’s team had the right vision and numbers and Corbion’s initial bid stood up. De Ruiter was well known along the US West Coast as the long-time CEO of Genencor until its acquisition by DuPont — he also served as chairman of LS9 and helped engineer the sale of that company to REG.

Re-jeweling Joule: We’re now Project Helios, and you can buy our IP

Meanwhile, people are asking about the fate of Joule — we highlighted several weeks ago the auction of the bulk of its on-ground assets in Hobbs, New Mexico. Most recently, Joule’s intellectual property has been re-branded as Project Helios, and is being circulated as an IP acquisition opportunity including “proprietary genetically modified cyanobacteria strains, efficient and continuous energy production processes, genetic and engineering solutions to contamination control, and optimized vertical modular reactor / conversion systems, all backed by 54 issued patents, 53 pending patent applications, as well as an extensive array of trade secrets.”

It’s being positioned as a “highly scalable technology positioned for near-term commercialization”, and is “substantiated by successful implementation at pilot scale for more than 24 months, and at a larger scale at a demonstration plant since September 2012.”

Also, the brokerage group notes that “Recent successful production runs provide validation that the process can produce ethanol at a scale much larger than the initial pilot facility; modular process remains replicable and consistent whether a plant is 250 or 25,000 acres in size,” and that “Evolution of modular bioreactor from horizontal to vertical approach results in significantly improved productivity.”

The sales team pumps up that the “abundant, low-cost inputs result in highly attractive economics, in contrast to traditional renewable fuel producers that depend on costly raw material inputs (feedstock, land, fresh water) and downstream processing technologies that are difficult to scale,” without mentioning specifically why the original investors were unable to find the backers to take it to commercial deployment.

You can learn all about the transaction via Houlihan Lokey at hl.com.

DNA Script raises €11M in series A

Over in Europe, DNA Script closed a Series A fundraising of €11 M for its DNA synthesis technology which manufactures de novo synthetic nucleic acids using proprietary enzymatic technology, has raised €11 million. Sofinnova Partners is DNA Script’s historic and leading shareholder. Alongside Sofinnova Partners and other original investors — Illumina Ventures, and Merck Ventures joined the round. DNA Script’s innovation may be used in numerous technologies, such as for instance in the field of electronics for data storage by leveraging unprecedented capabilities of the molecule to store information.

Funds raised will allow DNA Script to strengthen its unique enzymatic technology and nucleotide chemistry platform in order to manufacture high quality oligonucleotides faster, cleaner and more affordably than current market standards.

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