With plans to advance itself as an ag-biotech company through development of its ACE System in plants, Agrisoma Biosciences Inc. closed a Series A round and named a new CEO.
The Burnaby, British Columbia-based company, which also has facilities in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was founded in 2001 on a chromosome-based gene delivery and expression platform, which it calls the ACE System. It is a spin-off from Chromos Molecular Systems Inc., also of Burnaby.
While the exact amount raised in the Series A is undisclosed, the company's new president and CEO Tom Mamic said the funds will take Agrisoma forward to 2007.
"The funding that we received will take us out to just less than three years," Mamic told BioWorld Today.
Investors in the Series A financing included London, Ontario-based Canadian Medical Discoveries Fund Inc. and Montreal-based Business Development Bank of Canada, as well as private individuals.
"It's a very strong show of support to get those people participating in the round," Mamic said. "It's a very critical vote of support."
That support is for the ACE System, which Chromos began developing in 1997. Agrisoma will use it to develop value-enhanced traits in crops and to produce industrial and therapeutic proteins in plant-based systems. Going forward, Agrisoma has a strategy to out-license value-enhanced crops, as well as plant-based proteins. It expects to receive up-front fees, research funding and other payments for the products it out-licenses. The company intends to in-license protein therapeutics as well, Mamic said.
Near term, Agrisoma has an objective to expand its technology across a spectrum of plant species. It does not have a focus on any specific crops or therapeutic areas, but the company is working to form collaborations that might narrow its research. Agrisoma is in discussions with a strategic partner and hopes to solidify a research agreement this year, Mamic said.
In addition to therapeutic proteins, Agrisoma also looks to develop industrial proteins.
"Industrial proteins are something that offer interesting alternatives to therapeutic proteins, such as a shorter time to market and lower regulatory hurdles," Mamic said.
The ACE System technology functions as a vehicle for transporting genes into the nucleus of a target cell in which they can be expressed to produce proteins. It is capable of simultaneously introducing multiple genes into known sites in plants, resulting in the expression of a protein product from the plant cells. The product is then maintained and stable over long periods of time. Agrisoma's technology overcomes the limitations of conventional gene-transfer technologies, such as reduced efficiency due to random integration of genes and limited capacity to transfer large amounts of DNA. The ACE System has a large and multiple gene-carrying capacity and can selectively control protein expression in a predictable way.
The system consists of a neutral, functional engineered plant chromosome known as Platform ACE, as well as two other components. The ACE Targeting Vector is a vector for loading genes onto the Platform ACE, and Unidirectional Integrase is a site-specific enzyme that allows for multiple rounds of gene loading.
Chromos began developing the ACE technology in 1997, the same year it brought in Mamic, who has worked as vice president of finance and chief financial officer of Chromos for the last four years.
"It puts us in a very enviable position to be able to leverage off [Chromos'] vast experience in this area," Mamic said.
Mamic expects to continue in his vice president and chief financial officer positions until a new person is appointed. In addition to his duties as president and CEO of Agrisoma, he will join the company's board.
Mamic spearheaded Agrisoma's business operations and development efforts, raising more than $50 million in equity capital.
Chromos decided to spin out Agrisoma in 2001 as a wholly owned subsidiary. The company completed its seed financing in November 2002. The Series A funding of Agrisoma allows Chromos to focus on its own business of cellular protein product and gene-based cell therapies. While Chromos continues to maintain an equity stake in Agrisoma, it lost its controlling position with the new financing.
Agrisoma's patent portfolio consists of 23 issued and 59 pending applications.