Innatrix Seeks Funding, Partners to Advance Eco-Friendly Crop Protection Products
Innatrix is working on a new solution to an old problem, with an eco–friendly twist.
The Research Triangle Park-based startup is developing a targeted way of controlling agricultural diseases and pests that can devastate crops. Innatrix’s environmentally friendly technology uses peptides to attach and block pathogen-promoting proteins, and RNAi to shut down genes that are essential for the survival of pests in targeted crops.
The company is seeking an additional $4 million in seed funding over the next several months to help advance its developmental pipeline through the regulatory process and on to manufacturing. Close to $1.5 million of that amount already is committed, according to CEO Jiarui Li, Ph.D. That’s in addition to $1 million in investment dollars raised in 2022.
The North Carolina Biotechnology Center also has provided a $250,000 loan to Innatrix to support the development of biopesticides to treat late blight disease in potatoes and tomatoes caused by the pathogen Phytophthora infestans.
A focus on three products
Innatrix currently is focused on three core products: InnaNema to attack soybean cyst nematode; InnaLB to prevent potato late blight; and InnaHLB to address citrus greening. The total market to manage these infestations is more than $800 million annually.
“We are currently using our platform to control these economically important and devastating crop pathogens and pests,” Li said. He noted that the technology, which is expected to be as effective as traditional chemical treatments with an improved safety and environmental profile, is transferable to other crops and pests and can be used for invasive weed control as well.
Li said Innatrix’s technology offers distinct advantages over chemical-based treatments. It can cut time-to-market – from product development through regulatory approvals – by close to two-thirds, while reducing average development costs by almost 95%.
Another plus – biologics don’t negatively impact the environment the way chemical pesticides do, so they have an easier path to regulatory approval. And disease resistance also isn’t as much of a problem.
All of this translates into savings for growers. Li said Innatrix hopes to help farmers reduce chemical pesticide use by 40% and increase their yields by at least 10% in the process. A field trial already has demonstrated that the company’s technology works well in controlling soybean cyst nematode. Innatrix wants to partner with a larger company or companies over the next couple of years to manufacture and market its new products, which it expects to be approved for use by early 2026.
Innatrix was founded in 2013 by then-CEO Marshall Edgell, Ph.D., a long-time member of the microbiology faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Li joined the company as research director and senior scientist in 2018 and was named CEO in 2020.
Innatrix’s core team has more than 150 years of collective experience in agriculture technology research and development and product commercialization.
In addition to Li, the group includes Pam Marrone, John Salmeron and Paul Hamilton. All have Ph.D.s. Marrone –senior advisor on biological project development – is one of the most influential ag biological leaders in the world, according to the company. Salmeron is vice president for business development and Hamilton is scientific advisor.
Li said Innatrix has just hired Ted Kahn, Ph.D., as its vice president of research and development. Kahn’s work in agricultural biotechnology has led to a number of patents, and he has discovered and helped develop what is projected to become the first commercialized nematode-control trait in the agriculture technology industry.