Read about Enko and Syngenta new partnership
In the coming years, we will work closely with the Syngenta team to design safe, effective and sustainable crop health molecules. Our shared goal is to help farmers around the world by creating solutions that address resistant pests and emerging diseases. I’m excited to see where Syngenta’s deep industry expertise and global distribution channels, paired with Enko’s unique ability to discover and design targeted molecules for pest control, will take us.
I’d like to share more about the discovery and design of those molecules, and why it is vital to the work we’ll do with Syngenta.
Today, farmers have very limited options to safely and sustainably protect their fields from the emerging threats of pests, superweeds and new diseases. They urgently need new tools, but the agriculture industry has relied on the same time-consuming, expensive and risky R&D approaches to make crop protection products for years.
The threats farmers face can only be solved by evolving the industry’s approach. We believe it shouldn’t take many hundreds of millions of dollars and more than a decade to discover new crop protection products. On average, the discovery and development process takes 10-12 years. Our partnership with Syngenta will vastly accelerate this: Enko’s target-based approach to R&D is on track to cut discovery time in half.
That efficiency will make a meaningful financial impact. The top three players in this space spent a cumulative $1.9 billion on crop protection R&D in 2020, according to data from AgbioInvestor.
Speedy, safe science for a targeted approach
To achieve this efficiency, we’re using an approach that takes a page from the pharma industry’s playbook. In the last few decades, pharma has leaped ahead in the drug discovery process by using a toolkit of emerging technologies. This has improved disease treatment by making it highly targeted. For example, where cancer drugs once destroyed everything in their path—the harmful and the helpful—they now target specific cells and leave the rest to do their jobs.
Enko is the first to apply this target-based approach, powered by DNA-encoded libraries, to crop health. We start by identifying an essential enzyme variant that’s unique to a pest (for example, humans and some bacteria can both digest lactose, but do so with slightly different enzyme variants). Then, we use machine learning to simultaneously screen 120+ billion compounds in our molecular library and quickly zero in on promising molecules that will bind to that variant and stop its activity—like fitting a key into a lock. We seek out selective molecule “keys” for enzyme variant “locks” that haven’t been targeted in this way before, which means eliminating pests through new pathways and combating resistance.
This screening process only returns molecules that do not impact similar enzyme variants in other organisms, which establishes safety guardrails from the first step of discovery. It also reduces risk by rejecting low probability candidates, so we don’t waste time and resources pursuing molecules that will never pass regulation and become products.
In contrast, the traditional industry approach starts with a potentially promising new molecule, determines whether it will work on different pests, then moves into safety testing. This takes twice as long and is more resource intensive.
With Syngenta, we're establishing a new selective R&D model that will drive the industry forward through shared value. By prioritizing safety and intentionality early on in our discovery process, we will accelerate the development of crop health solutions that work better for farmers and make business sense.
A resilient future for smallholder farmers
All of Enko’s work focuses on giving farmers tools to be the best possible stewards of their land. Over the past year, COVID-19 exposed the fragility of our food system. Ensuring farmers around the world have equitable access to tools that can help stabilize it is paramount. Access to these tools is an especially urgent problem for smallholder farmers in Africa, South America and Asia who are historically underserved by the market and grapple with unique pest challenges exacerbated by climate change.
Prioritizing and serving them is part of our DNA. Our existing partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reflects our commitment to ensuring that smallholder farmers have access to the latest crop health technologies. As we develop new solutions, their needs will always be at the forefront.
Our partnerships with the Gates Foundation and with Syngenta bolster the ecosystem we’re creating to strengthen and sustain the future of farming. Through this ecosystem, we look forward to making a real impact for farmers who are managing emerging threats of new pests and diseases.
By Jacqueline Heard, CEO
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Enko collaborate on novel crop protection.
First in a series defining commonly used concepts and phrases relating to modern agriculture.