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Exclusive: Resurrect Bio lands $2m from AgFunder & others to build up plants’ immune systems

May 16, 2023

Disclosure: AFN’s parent company is AgFunder

  • UK-based plant biotech startup Resurrect Bio has closed a £1.61 million ($2 million) seed round.
  • Resurrect Bio uses gene editing to fix the innate immune system of crops and make them more resistant to disease.
  • SynBioVen led the round with participation from the UK Innovation & Science Seed Fund (UKI2S), AgFunder and SHAKE Climate Change Accelerator.
  • Resurrect Bio will use the new funds to accelerate product development and strengthen its underlying disease resistance trait-discovery platform it licenses to seed breeders.

Why it matters:

Crops like soybeans — Resurrect Bio’s first crop — have been bred over generations to improve certain traits like yield, height and drought tolerance. In the process, however, plants can lose the ability to fight disease in the presence of certain pathogens, says Resurrect Bio co-founder Cian Duggan.

Climate change can compound this, enabling infectious plant diseases to evolve and spread even as monocultures remain static. The result is a lack of ability to fight this widening spectrum of diseases, putting yields and food security at risk.

With soy, for example, roughly $1.5 billion of yield is lost each year in the US due to the soybean cyst nematode parasite. There is currently no effective chemical control for the parasite.

Even when there are chemicals, they come with a host of environmental and health problems that are well documented.

“If you went out to wild plants, there’s a good chance they would have evolved some counter mechanism [to disease],” says Duggan. “We’re doing exactly that. In fact, there are cases where what we’re trying to achieve has happened naturally, and we’re essentially replicating that.”

How it works:

Immune receptors in plants, sometimes called “helpers” and “sensors,” form intricate intracellular networks to create resistance to pathogens.

At the same time, plant pathogens and pests secrete suppressors that target the helpers and suppress immune response, making plants more susceptible to disease.

“You have hundreds of sensors and a few helpers in plants,” says Duggan. “If, for example, an aphid suppresses one of the helpers, the sensors no longer work and the plant can’t fight the disease.”

Resurrect Bio’s platform can alter the interaction between the suppressor and the helper and therefore resurrect the plant sensors and build up the immune system.
The company’s main business, however, is selling the above IP to plant breeders that typically already have the tools to do the gene editing themselves.

“They have the tools but not necessarily the targets,” says Duggan. “Even if they have the targets, they are [editing them] semi-randomly. We provide the genetic targets and precise changes that breeders need to make the crops resistant via gene editing or traditional breeding methods.”

Resurrect Bio currently partners with a number of different companies in the seed industry that will use the startup’s platform to enable rapid delivery of gene-edited, disease-resistant seeds. Farmers will then be able to use these seeds to enhance crop yield and reduce dependence on chemical inputs. Resurrect Bio takes royalties from the seed sales, which Duggan says is where the bulk of the company’s revenue currently comes from.

Where agtech meets biotech

The original IP along with Resurrect Bio itself was spun out from The Sainsbury Laboratory Norwich, which is home to a number of researchers, academics and teams conducting work in plant science.

Resurrect Bio is now based out of the Imperial College in London.

The seed round will enable the company to speed up development of its platform.

Duggan says the most challenging aspect of fundraising was explaining to potential investors the company’s position, which sits in the gray area between biotech and agtech.

“We work in agritech, but we also work in biotech. Very few funders feel feel like they understand the technology enough and the industry enough to immediately say yes to that,” he notes.

Resurrect Bio’s backers for the seed round, he adds, are those that “have a lot of experience in [agtech and biotech] and can see the benefits of the platform quickly.

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