GreenLight Biosciences Going Public to Fund RNA Product Pipeline
GreenLight Biosciences, which has growing research and development operations in Research Triangle Park, is planning to become a publicly traded company to accelerate its development of ribonucleic acid (RNA) products for human health and agriculture.
GreenLight, headquartered in Medford, Mass., near Boston, expects to raise $282 million to fund operations by combining with Environmental Impact Acquisition Corp. (Nasdaq: ENVI), a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). SPACs are “blank check” companies created to facilitate a merger, capital stock exchange, asset acquisition, stock purchase, reorganization or other combination with another business.
The combined company also expects to raise an additional $105 million in a fully committed PIPE (private investment in public equity) financing. The PIPE investors include S2G Ventures, Cormorant Asset Management, Morningside Venture Investments, Hudson Bay Capital, BNP Paribas Ecosystem Restoration Fund, The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust, Continental Grain Company, Pura Vida Investments LLC, Xeraya Capital, and MLS Fund II/Spruce.
GreenLight will be listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange with an estimated enterprise value of $1.2 billion based on the $10 per share price of ENVI common stock.
“Going public through this partnership will accelerate development and commercialization by enabling us to attract the talent, purchase the tools, scale our manufacturing infrastructure, advance regulatory approvals, and develop further the science necessary to address some of humanity’s most pressing challenges,” said Andrey Zarur, co-founder and chief executive officer of GreenLight.
Proceeds from the transaction will provide GreenLight with the capital to pursue its top product-development priorities.
For crop management and plant protection, the company’s most advanced products in development are RNA-based pesticides aimed at protecting honeybees from the parasitic varroa destructor mite, and protecting staple food products from destructive insect pests. The products could lessen dependence on traditional chemical pesticides, which can have negative environmental impacts and limited effectiveness.
“GreenLight BioSciences is a leader among the life sciences companies that are leveraging North Carolina’s wide and deep agricultural technology strengths,” said Paul Ulanch, Ph.D., executive director of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s Crop Commercialization Program. “GreenLight shines a light on the importance of manufacturing ribonucleic acid interference (RNAi) tools, at scale, that combat destructive crop pests in natural ways that people can embrace.”
For human health, GreenLight is developing a messenger RNA (mRNA) manufacturing platform aimed at providing mRNA-based therapeutics at scale and “an appropriate price for global needs.” The company’s lead vaccine programs include vaccine candidates for Covid-19 and influenza. Earlier-stage programs are being developed to address other unmet medical needs, such as sickle cell disease.
“We believe that GreenLight’s breakthrough platform can create advanced therapies, vaccines and crop-protection products that address—quickly, directly and specifically—some of the most significant problems facing the world today,” Zarur said.
The company’s cell-free RNA manufacturing platform, protected by numerous patents, allows for cost-effective and scalable production of RNA for a variety of applications across agriculture and human health. The platform can build RNA strands that precisely target specific genes in plants, animals or fungi, suppressing the activity of those genes for a beneficial effect.
“When considering quality merger partners that aligned with our mission of delivering environmental and social impact, we saw GreenLight as both a notable and compelling partner for ENVI and our shareholders,” said Dan Coyne, chief executive officer of Environmental Impact Acquisition Corp. ”In creating ENVI, our goal was to partner with a high-growth, technology-rich business, propelled by a large market opportunity and a business model supporting critical sustainability initiatives.”
The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year, subject to stockholder approval.
After the transaction closes, GreenLight will continue to be led by Zarur and supported by the company’s existing management team.
The company has about 250 employees, mostly based in Medford, Mass., Rochester, N.Y., and Research Triangle Park (RTP).
Positive impact locally
Going public is good news for the RTP site.
GreenLight already has grown its R&D team in RTP from an initial 30 employees in early 2020 to 44 today, despite the business disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With a funding wave on the horizon, the company expects to have 70 to 80 employees at the site within the next two years, said Mark Singleton, head of plant health in RTP.
Activities at the site include bioinformatics, genomics, screening and formulations work that supports both plant and human health applications. New positions will include formulations, regulatory and product marketing positions as products move closer to commercialization, Singleton said.
GreenLight expects to have its first product, an RNA-based agent for controlling the Colorado potato beetle, registered with the Environmental Protection Agency next year.
“It works extremely well” and is a highly specific solution without the downsides of traditional chemical pesticides, Singleton said.
Submission of a second product registration, for an agent controlling parasitic varroa destructor mites, is expected in the first quarter of 2022, he said. The mites are a major cause of colony collapse disorder among honey bees, which are essential pollinators for many food crops.
GreenLight’s RNA-based solution is safe for bees, beekeepers, food and the environment because it is targeted specifically to the mite with no off-target effects. Additionally, RNA is a naturally occurring molecule, is non-toxic and breaks down quickly, according to a company video about one Georgia bee farmer’s experience with varroa destructor mites and the need for effective solutions.