Enko, a crop health company supported by the Gates Foundation, announced Tuesday that it has signed a multi-year partnership with Syngenta Crop Protection to design sustainable and safe solutions to combat pests, weeds and diseases for farmers across the world in a way that reduces development and production time.
Over 600 different pests have built a resistance to current crop protection methods, and new crop diseases continue to affect more regions every year. This one-two punch causes the United States alone to lose about $10 billion each year. “Emerging threats to crop health can only be solved by evolving our approach to designing products,” said Jacqueline Heard, CEO of Enko.
To better fight pests and disease, Enko has developed a target-based approach. It starts by studying a particular pest, examining it for proteins or cell functions that might be able to be inhibited by one of the thousands of chemicals it has in its DNA-encoded library. Its machine learning and AI algorithms help its researchers gauge how well the chemicals in the library work against the intended target.
“Our approach is very, very different and so in the discovery phases when we’re identifying chemistry by starting with the target and then screening this very diverse library,” says Heard. “We get a lot more starting points. And so that allows us to make… things that are going to have a high likelihood of becoming a product.”
Enko looked to partner with Syngenta in order to leverage the latter’s technology to “bring speed in developing new and novel chemistries quickly to the pipeline.” Developing new pesticides or treatments for agriculture typically takes 10-12 years, but with this new partnership, these companies hope to cut that time in half. One advantage is that their technologies can help determine both safety and efficacy earlier in the development process, hastening the speed to commercialization.
“It’s a true partnership in that we bring a very different approach to how we identify new starting points for products and solutions, and they’re a world class commercialization engine,” says Heard.
Heard says her company has been inspired by the latest drug discovery and development approaches in the pharmaceutical industry, which have become more specific and selective so new drugs can hit their targets. “We looked at that and thought there are tools that are being used in the pharmaceutical industry today that are aiding with the things that would yield more efficacious and safer products for crop protection,” she adds.
Enko remains venture backed, but it hopes to have “additional rounds of capital raised” and look for recurring funding to be a “sustainable, large business” while having other partnerships to offset capital. As the industry undergoes digital transformation, Heard hopes this partnership can show how the use of AI and digital transformation can lead to more efficiency and sustainability on a global scale.
“Agriculture productivity differs tremendously whether you’re in the United States or in other parts of the world, so Enko is committed to making sure that we provide these solutions to all growers, globally,” says Heard.