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invest more money in the company from the start, Dombrosky says. Of the $10 million raised by Boragen, AgTech Accelerator put in $3 million. The $7 million balance came from the accelerator’s investors—Alexandria Venture Investments, ARCH Venture Partners, Bayer, Elanco Animal Health, Flagship Pioneering, Hatteras Venture Partners, Mountain Group Capital, Pappas Capital, and Syngenta Ventures.
The investor group supporting both AgTech Accelerator and Boragen now includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Dombrosky says the foundation is interested in ag startups as part of its support for technologies that could have global impact.
The Gates Foundation is already familiar with boron-based technologies. In 2013, it committed $17.7 million to Anacor’s efforts to develop drugs that treat neglected diseases. The foundation also bought a $5 million equity stake in the biotech. Dombrosky says Gates Foundation involvement will ensure that AgTech Accelerator companies think of how their technologies apply to the developing world.
Boragen aims to address a wide spectrum of fungal diseases affecting multiple crops. A Boragen fungicide would overcome fungicide resistance by killing the microorganisms in a different way than the current lineup of crop chemicals, Liu says.
It’s a growing area of interest for big agriculture companies. Last month, Bayer entered a fungicide partnership with Cary, NC-based Trana Discovery. The collaboration, which focuses on discovering chemicals that act on a key cellular process for fungi, aims to discover and develop new fungicides that are more effective than chemicals currently used on crops, yet also less harmful to the environment.
Dombrosky says the accelerator isn’t ditching its original model, which aims to seed three or four early stage companies each year. He says the accelerator can be flexible to adjust if a technology warrants a different approach and more money, such as Boragen.
The company is based at AgTech Accelerator’s RTP site and will have use of the office and business resources of the facility. Dombrosky will be Boragen’s CEO. With the new capital, Boragen will develop a lead candidate, as well as other products that could be used in both plants and animals. In a nod to the Boragen technology’s origins, the company might even pursue candidates for human health, Dombrosky adds.
To start, Boragen will hire six more scientists to help Liu build the company’s fungicide pipeline. Liu, who began working in drug research and never imagined that his career would take him into crop protection, says those hires will come from both the pharma and agriculture sectors.
“We’re looking to bring in people with different perspectives that can really drive innovation,” he says.