Biopesticides Startup Vestaron Advances Another Product to EPA for Review
Vestaron’s Spear line of products showed how peptides can point the way to control of crop pests in a way that’s safe for people, beneficial insects, and the environment. Now the biopesticides startup is making progress toward bringing growers a second line of products that work in a similar manner.
Vestaron recently submitted its Basin biopesticide family to the Environmental Protection Agency for review.
Research Triangle Park-based Vestaron develops biopesticides that target the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor of the insect’s nervous system. Synthetic chemistries that are the basis of older pesticides also target this receptor, but pests can develop resistance to them, and they can also harm bees, which are helpful as plant pollinators.
Vestaron’s biopesticides are based on peptides, chains of amino acids that are smaller than proteins. The company works with naturally occurring peptides, looking for ones that have insecticidal properties. Once those peptides are identified, the company synthesizes the genes that encode for them and puts them in a yeast strain. The yeast act like tiny factories, producing the active ingredient that is the basis for the company’s biopesticides. The company’s research yielded its Spear product line.
Like Spear, the new Basin product line also targets nicotinic acetylcholine, but on another site of the receptor. That feature allows it to be added to integrated pest management (IPM) programs that combine multiple tools and practices to control pests while also minimizing economic, health, and environmental impacts.
Basin will target lepidopteran pests---caterpillars that munch on various plant parts. In field tests, Vestaron reports that Basin’s results are equal to those of Spear and synthetic insecticides. The company says Basin would be an alternative to synthetic chemistries and is intended for use in fruits, nuts, and other high-value field crops. Vestaron’s peptide technology is a platform, offering the potential for producing additional biopesticides.
“Our pipeline is deep, and we are confident that our products will be the solutions growers need to initially strengthen and ultimately completely evolve their IPM strategies for years to come,” CEO Anna Rath said in a prepared statement.
Vestaron spun out of Western Michigan University. In 2018, the EPA approved the company’s first product, Spear-T, a concentrated liquid formulation that’s designed for a broad range of insect and mite pests in greenhouses. The second product from the Spear line, called Spear-Lep, was approved in 2019 and is intended for control of lepidopteran pests in both outdoor and indoor crops. This formulation is applied with a synergist, a chemical that poses low toxicity risk to humans but makes insecticides more effective. This combination is intended to work by being ingested by the insect.
In 2019, Vestaron moved its headquarters from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Research Triangle Park. The company still keeps an R&D site in Kalamazoo. The headquarters relocation came months after the close of a $40 million Series B round of funding led by Novo Holdings. In February, Vestaron announced that the Series B round had expanded by $18 million, a B-1 financing led by Northpond Ventures. The B-1 financing added another new investor, Cavallo Ventures. Also participating in the new financing were earlier investors Novo Holdings, Syngenta Ventures, CGC Ventures, and Anterra Capital.