Micropep Technologies, a French ag biotechnology company, has raised a €4 million ($4.94 million) Series A round of funding. The round was led by Sofinnova Partners, a Paris-based life sciences investor with $1.5 billion under management. Micropep is Sofinnova’s second investment from its recently closed €125 million fund, Sofinnova IB I fund. French VC Irdi Soridec Gestion and existing partner, SATT Toulouse Tech Transfer also participated in the round.
Micropep is developing crop enhancement products using micro-RNA or miRNA — a small RNA molecule hat DNA uses to communicate what proteins to build.
Micropep is identifying and harnessing miRNA-encoded peptides (micropeptides), which are proteins produced by plants to regulate the expression of genes critical to plant development, without changing the underlying DNA. Each micropeptide makes it possible to target a specific family of genes in a given plant species. Micropeptides can be used to speed up or slow down germination, increase plant’s resistance to diseases or even accelerate flowering.
One of the company’s first research efforts is to identify corn-specific micropeptides that will improve corn germination without having any effects on nearby weeds.
Micropep’s technology was discovered by cofounder Jean-Phillippe Combier at the Plant Science Research Laboratory (LRSV) in France and initially funded and supported by the city of Toulouse’s Tech Transfer (TTT) company before being transferred to and developed by Micropep Technologies.
Micropep’s products will either be produced chemically or through a biological production method. (Peptides are already commonplace in pharmaceuticals, so production at scale is not likely to be a major barrier.)
Micropep’s first product, which CEO Thomas Laurent says is likely five years away, will be a seed coating. Crop protection sprays are also a target for Micropep since the miRNA peptides can be made to affect just one species, meaning it could inhibit the growth of specific weeds while leaving crops unaffected.
Laurent said that his technology is preferable to many of the biological crop inputs on the market today because the mechanism is fully understood.
“We have an approach that is a bit different than the microbiome space. In that space the mode of action of the molecule is not always understood. We understand the genetics and role of microRNA and then on this knowledge we design peptides,” said Laurent.
The company is currently partnering with a Spanish seed maker in order to develop and test initial products.