Switching sharply to developing a vaccine for Covid-19 appears to have proved a boon for GreenLight Biosciences, a company that previously focused on developing biological pesticides. The Massachusetts-based biotech firm has just raised an oversubscribed $102 million round of funding, AFN can confirm, and much of this will go toward countering the ongoing global pandemic with a vaccine.
This seems like a dramatic pivot. But in truth, it is not such a distant leap from targeting crop-gobbling insects like the Colorado Potato Beetle. Both require the cheap, fast, and reliable creation of specific strands of RNA, a natural molecule that controls biological processes in all living things. Doing so has always been the opposite: costly, slow, complex — even unreliable.
Other manufacturers in biotech turning their hands to RNA-based vaccine production have been used to competing against other vaccinators. But GreenLight has spent years in another kind of war of price and scale — the highly commoditised world of chemical pesticides. While questions are mounting over their ecological and health risks, agri-chemicals still prove extremely cheap and effective, at least with a short-term mindset.
GreenLight’s attempts to compete here have led to its development of RNA strands that are cheap and quick to manufacture, the company says. For example, the cost of RNA for the development of agricultural biocontrols has been as high as $100 – $10,000 per gram. GreenLight says its patented, cell-free bioprocessing platform can produce targeted RNA products at a significantly lower cost.
And hence — $102 million for GreenLight in a round led by Morningside Ventures, with participation from the likes of S2G Ventures, Cormorant Asset Management, Continental Grain Company, Fall Line Capital, Tao Capital Partners, Baird Capital, MLS Capital Fund II, Lewis and Clark AgriFood, and Lupa Systems.
The investment follows a $17 million special purpose round in May 2020 to accelerate large-scale manufacturing of future Covid-19 vaccines using the company’s proprietary messenger RNA (mRNA) production technology. This latest funding package will stretch this pivot into other areas of human health, as well as support the launch of the company’s first biopesticide in 2022. The funds, the investors say, will bankroll the development of other crop protection products too.
“GreenLight Biosciences’ manufacturing technology can address critical pain points for RNA supply in both agriculture and human health,” said Jason Dinges of Morningside Ventures, in a statement. “RNA-based products represent an opportunity for innovation in both human therapeutics as well as safe, environmentally-friendly crop protection.”
GreenLight’s co-founder and CEO Andrey Zarur describes this as “our dual mission to make food production more robust and environmentally respectful; and our health solutions applicable to every member of the human race. We remain steadfast in our commitment to provide bio-based solutions for plant health, human health, and animal health, and to make those solutions affordable and accessible.”