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Monsanto Invests in $25m Series A for Pairwise after Cofounding CRISPR Startup

March 20, 2018

Pairwise Plants has raised a $25 million Series A round co-led by Monsanto Growth Ventures and healthcare investment firm Deerfield Management.

Pairwise is a gene-editing company that has licensed programmable base editing technology from Harvard University, which will leverage various CRISPR-based technologies to create new crop varieties with favorable traits. The startup was founded in-house by Monsanto Growth Ventures and some of the foremost scientists behind the fundamentals of gene-editing. 

Pairwise will work exclusively with Monsanto in corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and canola crops. Under the companies’ collaboration and licensing agreement, Monsanto will contribute $100 million to access and develop Pairwise IP in row crop applications, including an option to commercialize products resulting from the research collaboration.

Kiersten Stead of Monsanto Growth Ventures told AgFunderNews that Pairwise will have the capability to bring gene-editing to crops beyond the row crops that most gene-editing research has focused on to date.

“Pairwise will also be working on a variety of specialty crops through collaborations and directly via in-house precision breeding programs,” said Stead.

Gene editing is far less developed in specialty crops than in row crops like corn and soy. Stead said that crops outside the broad-acre category, like tree fruit crops and quinoa, are “underbred,” and therefore not as efficient as they could be. “They have not had the benefit of the major ag companies putting hundreds of millions of dollars into modern breeding technologies optimizing these crops to help them produce the most calories and nutrition for the least amount of inputs,” she explained.

“[Pairwise] will be one of the most transformational companies broadly across agriculture. Finally, we have a company that’s going to be focusing on the most modern tools on not just row crops,” Stead added.

Pairwise is the first example of an independent startup that Monsanto Growth Ventures has built internally, which Stead says will allow Pairwise to move quickly. “I think these things are best done by an independent company, with independent management, with goals and freedom to be able to iterate.”

Pairwise will be led by Dr. Tom Adams, CEO starting April 1, and Dr. Haven Baker, chief business officer, with founders Drs. Feng Zhang, David Liu and J. Keith Joung — a team that Stead says is unrivaled in the agriculture biotechnology field.

David Liu is a Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, where he pioneered base editing, a new form of gene editing, and evolved genome editing agents with improved properties compared to their natural forms.

J. Keith Joung is a pathologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School. Over the past decade, his lab has invented and optimized important innovations in gene-editing technology.

Feng Zhang is a core institute member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. He developed the CRISPR-Cas9 system for gene editing human and plant cells, and continues to identify and adapt gene-editing tools including CRISPR-Cas12s (Cpf1) and CRISPR-Cas13s.

Haven Baker, formerly senior vice president and general manager of Simplot Plant Sciences, and was responsible for launching the Innate Potato, which is 44% less likely to bruise.

“Our goal is to solve agriculture problems across a wide range of food systems that are also acknowledged social problems – including food waste, food security and nutrition, and to enable other companies worldwide to benefit from gene editing through technology licensing and collaboration,” said Adams.

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