UofG spinout secures £1.3m funding to develop eco-friendly insecticides
University of Glasgow spinout SOLASTA Bio, specialising in the next generation of green insecticides, has secured seed investment of £1.3 million to support ongoing development of its unique nature-inspired pesticides, the first of their kind to be developed worldwide.
Established in May 2020 after four years of research funded by UKRI BBSRC and the EC, and commercialisation support from Scottish Enterprise’s High Growth Spinout Programme, SOLASTA Bio develops environmentally-friendly products that meet a global need for new and effective crop protection. These biopesticides also preserve the ecosystem by protecting beneficial insects such as bees.
The company, which is led by Professor Shireen Davies, professor of integrative cell signalling at the Institute of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology, has developed the world's first technology platform for creating neuropeptide-based insect control products that are nature-inspired rather than selected from a synthetic chemistry library.
These products effectively target insect pests while preserving beneficial pollinators such as bees in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. Disturbance of target physiological processes by neuropeptide-based bioinsecticides leads to death in pest species. SOLASTA Bio’s platform can be mobilised for any pest of interest.
Investors in this seed funding round include The Yield Lab Europe, SIS Ventures, members of Cambridge Agritech and UKI2S, who also provided access to the UKI2S managed Innovate UK Sub Fund grant. Founding investors UKI2S and Scottish Enterprise provided pre-seed funding.
With this latest funding secured, SOLASTA Bio is aiming to take the trials of its biopesticides out of the laboratory and into real-world settings. The company aims to bring its first biopesticides to market in 2027, around half the time traditionally taken by synthetic pest control products.
The company was co-founded by award-winning scientist and entrepreneur Professor Shireen Davies, CEO, world leader in insect biology and functional genomics Professor Julian Dow, CSO, former BASF senior executive Paul Bernasconi, CTO; and Professor Robert Liskamp, peptide technology. The three management team co-founders are joined by the Chair, Rob Wylie and CFO David Armour, with a team of R&D staff based in Glasgow.
The global insecticides market is currently dominated by synthetic chemicals accounting for 94% of insect control solutions, with a projected 2022 value of $22 billion. While 75% of food crops are dependent on pollinator insects, other insects cause enormous social, health and economic damage accounting for at least $70 billion in US crop losses alone. However, the insecticides market is under increasing pressure from widespread insect resistance, lack of species specificity, increasing regulatory controls and consumer preferences for non-chemical residues.
Professor Shireen Davies, CEO, SOLASTA Bio commented: “The global market for insecticides has been under intense scrutiny for many years now, with growing demands on food production requiring greater levels of crop protection, counterbalanced by heightened concerns for the environment. Through our proprietary technology platform, we have developed a world-leading solution which represents a profound change for how insect control agents are discovered, and a step change in how we not only protect our crops worldwide, but also our ecosystem. This seed funding now allows us to accelerate our R&D plans and move towards Series A in 2022.”
Managing Partner at The Yield Lab Europe Nicky Deasy commented: “We are delighted to back SOLASTA Bio and lead this round, and I look forward to working with Shireen and the team to help them successfully commercialise this important technology.”
Rob Halliday Senior Investment Manager, SIS Ventures, said: "SIS Ventures is proud to welcome SOLASTA Bio to our outstanding portfolio of Scottish mission-led businesses and we look forward to working closely with the world-class management team and our co-investment partners towards realising SOLASTA Bio’s significant potential. To deal with the unique challenges of today, the global Agribusiness industry is crying out for environmentally friendly innovative new approaches to effective pest-control. We believe SOLASTA Bio’s technology is a game changer in this regard. By delivering the next generation of nature inspired green insecticides, SOLASTA Bio will create profound environmental and societal impact."
Oliver Sexton, Investment Director, UKI2S, said: “SOLASTA’s platform of highly selective biopesticides will provide an alternative to environmentally damaging crop protection agents. UKI2S is excited by the team’s technology which has global potential and is addressing large agritech markets.”
Victoria Carmichael, director of Strategic Investments at Scottish Enterprise, said: “The rate at which Scotland’s academic institutions continue to produce game-changing spinouts is staggering. It’s been fifty years since the country’s first spinout was founded, leading to the cultivation of an entrepreneurial culture that turns world-leading research into real-world applications.
“SOLASTA is an excellent example of what can be achieved in such a supportive environment. The company is developing products with global appeal that will benefit the environment, conserve natural resources, and preserve biodiversity.
“We’re proud to have supported SOLASTA through our High Growth Spinout Programme, which provided advice and funding that helped develop the company’s value proposition, business plan and investment strategy, and look forward to exploring how we can further work with the company to help it achieve its growth ambitions and scale.”
First published: 23 August 2021