Molecular farming key to RTP startup's new sweetener

Elo Life Systems is a step closer to making the world a little sweeter.

The Research Triangle Park spinout from Precision BioSciences has raised an additional $20.5 million in capital, giving it a total of $45 million in funds raised to date. Elo Life Systems is using the new funding to boost commercialization of its monk fruit-derived sweetener and build a pipeline of food ingredients based on molecular farming.

Elo lab
A lab at Elo Life Systems.

Elo’s initial sweetener product is expected to hit the market in 2026. The company says it will be 300 times sweeter than sugar - without the calories.

“Elo’s sweetener will be a major catalyst in the effort to lower sugar in our diets, improving human health and reducing the societal burden associated with chronic diseases,” Kierstan Stead, managing partner of DCVC Bio, which co-lead the funding round, said in a news release.

Producing food ingredients

Molecular farming involves using crops that are easy to grow, such as watermelons and tomatoes, as “biofactories” producing compounds that are difficult to extract in nature. Elo’s molecular farming platform uses gene editing and other techniques to enable these traditional crops to produce food ingredients, such as sweeteners, at scale.

Monk fruit is a good example of a food not easily cultivated and produced. The natural sugar substitute, grown and harvested primarily in the southern mountains of China, can only hit supermarket shelves through a series of production steps that involve taking out the inner sweet portions of the fruit and processing them.

Molecular farming isn’t Elo’s only specialty. The company is also expanding its work in crop protection, including working to create a fungal-resistant form of the common Cavendish banana.

When Elo was still a part of Precision BioSciences, the advanced gene editing company based in Durham, it established an agreement with Dole Food Co. to help save bananas from a devastating disease known as Fusarium wilt. Elo says its new banana version has gone through successful greenhouse testing and is in field trials in Latin America.

Supportive scientific environment

As a life sciences company working in agricultural technology and food sciences, Elo is in good company in North Carolina. The North Carolina Biotechnology Center counts nearly 200 such companies operating in the state.

Todd Rands, Elo’s CEO, said the growth of life sciences companies in the Triangle region is a boost to startups like Elo that are looking for top scientific talent.

Elo CEO Rands
Elo Life Systems' CEO Todd Rands

“It’s a huge competitive advantage for Elo to make its home base in Research Triangle Park,” Rands said by email. “Elo benefits from the concentration of diverse and highly skilled talent across the RTP area.”

Elo has 37 employees, most of whom operate out of company headquarters in the Alexandria Center for Life Sciences campus in RTP. Elo’s operations also include labs and a greenhouse.

Elo announced its $20.5 million Series A follow-on in late January. In addition to Silicon Valley-based DCVC Bio, a fund with more than $3 billion in assets under management, Novo Holdings co-led the round. Novo Holdings is the investment and holding company for the Novo Nordisk Foundation and is the 77% owner of pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk. Elo’s other investors include Hanwha Next Generation Opportunity Fund, AccelR8, and Alexandria Venture Investments.

Kyle Marshall, NCBiotech Writer
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