Senesco Technologies Inc. executives said they know their technology can make improvements in plants, and now have raised money that will propel the company into exploration of the technology in humans.
Founded in 1998, the New Brunswick, N.J., company is based on the intellectual property of John Thompson, whose suite of genes is induced at the onset of senescence in freshly harvested produce, the final phase of a plant’s life. It’s also the origin of the company’s name.
Earlier this week, Senesco reported that it raised additional funds, bringing its private placement to $3.1 million, money that President and CEO Bruce Galton said will allow the company to trade on a larger exchange.
In the most recent piece of the financing, Senesco raised $1.96 million through the private placement of restricted equity securities with certain accredited investors. The financing consisted of about 1.1 million shares of common stock, warrants to purchase 432,812 shares of common stock with an exercise price of $2 per share, and warrants to purchase 432,812 shares of common stock at $3.25 per share.
“First and foremost, [the money] will be used to accelerate our research program,” Galton said, explaining the secondary benefit will be to trade on a larger exchange.
Currently, the company trades on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB:SENO). On Thursday, the stock was down 10 cents to close at $2.70.
Trading on a larger exchange, Galton said, would attract more attention for the company and attract analysts to the stock.
“It also helps on the commercial side when you’re talking to potential partners,” he said. “It gives you more of a presence.”
From a research perspective, the company plans to continue with its research and development by increasing focus on agriculture products to determine how its technology works in different species.
Galton described the company’s technology simply as “a suite of genes that regulate cell death.” Rather than inserting new genetic material into plants, Senesco’s technology alters the expression of an existing gene.
“We don’t make a product that goes into a bottle or box,” he said. “What we have is intellectual property.”
Senesco’s revenue stream comes from its work with other companies, using its technology to help partners make improvements to their products.
“We are going to work as a partnering company,” Galton said, explaining that will be done through different business arrangements from which Senesco gets a combination of research fees, milestones and royalties once products are produced.
Senesco already is a participant in two partnerships, including a joint venture with Rahan Meristem Ltd., of Israel, which the companies entered in May 1999, focusing on banana plants. Senesco also partnered with Harris Moran Seed Co, of Modesto, Calif., in November for the improvement of lettuce and melons.
“We work with [companies] to transfer our gene technology to them so they can grow seeds or plants enhanced with our technology to produce favorable traits, which could be bigger biomass, larger leaves or extended shelf life,” Galton said, explaining that Senesco is at the beginning of the commercialization stage for its technology in the agricultural market.
In some instances, it could be that a larger tree that produces more pulp is the goal. With food products, the benefit is that the technology prolongs life and adds other benefits without affecting the taste, with applications for fruits and vegetables, in addition to other perishable products such as flowers and agronomic row crops.
Senesco’s newest mission is to apply the technology, through partnerships, to the development of human therapeutics through controlling apoptosis, whether it is regulating cells that die “too early or too late,” Galton said.
That could include the development of drug targets and the development of gene therapies, which directly target the symptoms of diseases caused by abnormal apoptosis.
Diseases for which this could have application include cancer, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
“Despite the different terminology, the processes and genes involved in cell death are virtually identical in plants and humans,” the company said.
As with plants, Senesco’s strategy is to partner, only this time it would be with health care companies and biopharmaceutical companies.
“In the human health field, there are companies working on these diseases,” Galton said. “[For example], if our products have applications in cancer, there are certainly a number of companies working on cancer.”