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Intrexon, with RTP AgBio Site, Raises $67M

Privately held Intrexon has raised $66.9 million from 82 investors, according to a recent regulatory filing.

The Blacksburg, Virginia-based development-stage biotech company entered the North Carolina biotech scene in February with the purchase of Agarigen. With Intrexon's purchase, for an undisclosed sum, Agarigen was re-christened the Intrexon AgBio Division.

Agarigen got an initial boost in 2007 with a $25,000 Small Business Development loan from the Biotechnology Center. Reviewers liked the fact that it set up shop in Research Triangle Park to perfect its Pennsylvania State University spin-out technology for growing vaccines and other medicines quickly and inexpensively in pizza topping --  specifically, button mushrooms.

Typical of start-ups that “make the cut” to get Biotechnology Center support, Agarigen was then able to parlay that stamp of approval into a $244,000 federal grant in 2009. Don Walters, Ph.D., a molecular biologist, is Agarigen’s co-founder and research director. The other co-founder is Penn State mushroom science expert Peter Romaine. All told,  they reportedly pooled more than $9 million in DOD funding.

By the time of its sale to Intrexon, Agarigen had grown to at least 13 full-time employees working to coax their genetically engineered mushrooms to make proteins that the company believes could produce three million vaccine doses in as little as three months.

Like neighboring Medicago’s plan for producing vaccines in tobacco leaves, Agarigen’s plan is to create a production system that will be less expensive, more flexible and faster than the traditional in-ovum approach.

Housed at the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Intrexon is developing DNA control systems to enhance the safety and efficacy of existing and emerging biological therapeutics. The firm has other facilities in Maryland, California and some research and development labs in Valley Forge, Pa.

Intrexon also acquired California-based Neugenesis recently to pursue industrial biotech applications. One of Intrexon’s key backers is Virginia multi-billionaire biotech investor Randal Kirk.

The firm is targeting partners that can help it create what it calls “BetterDNA” to be applied across various synthetic biology platforms for industrial, agricultural and pharmaceutical applications.