Ghent-based company Protealis, a new spin-off from VIB and ILVO, is making its debut today in the plant breeding industry. Inspired by the mission to grow more sustainable plant-based proteins locally, Protealis aims to harvest the full potential of legume crops. With breeding technologies and seed coatings, Protealis will create new opportunities for European farmers to help overcome Europe’s protein deficit. The initial focus is to develop high-yielding, high-protein soybean varieties. Protealis has successfully concluded a EUR 6 million seed financing round led by V-Bio Ventures, and joined by Agri Investment Fund (AIF), Participatiemaatschappij Vlaanderen (PMV), Estari Group, Globachem Group, Gemma Frisius Fund, and VIB. The capital will support the company’s plans to further develop its proprietary technology, expand its crop portfolio and bring the first soy varieties adapted to local needs to the market by 2022.
Sustainably grown soy in Europe to drive the protein shift
Europe is over 70% dependent on imports for its supply of protein-rich crops. However, the millions of tons of soy we annually import from South America to cover for our deficits come at the expense of rain forests and their unique ecosystems. Moreover, there is a growing consumer demand for sustainable, local, and more high-quality plant-based protein for direct use in food applications. To future-proof protein supply and consumption in Europe, a shift towards local plant protein production is urgently needed and endorsed by EU and Flanders’ policies. However, soybean varieties bred up until now do not typically thrive in our local soil and climate.
A new opportunity for farmers
Protealis’ goal is to develop high-protein and high-yielding protein crops that are well adapted to our climate and the needs of local agriculture. Legume crops are an excellent source of protein and can be grown sustainably as they do not require nitrogen fertilization. With their soil-improving characteristics, legumes are an excellent addition for farmers in crop rotation. Soy, with up to 46 grams of protein per 100 grams, is a logical first crop of choice for Protealis. The new company will breed varieties that are very well adapted to northern latitude regions in Europe, ensuring local supply for the fast-growing markets of meat and dairy replacements as well as for sustainable animal nutrition.
A perfect pairing
Protealis is based on the strategic alliance of research institutes VIB and ILVO and draws on the unique know-how of each of the partners. This includes a market-ready breeding program based on innovative, non-GM breeding technologies from ILVO and seed coating with proprietary yield-enhancing soil bacteria from VIB. These innovations have been developed and refined over the years at the top VIB labs of Professors Sofie Goormachtig (VIB-UGent) and Jan Michiels (VIB-KU Leuven), and the ILVO teams of Joke Pannecoucque and Isabel Roldán-Ruiz.
Commenting on the announcement, CEO Benjamin Laga says: “My personal aspiration has always been to combine science and technology with entrepreneurship in order to address societal and environmental challenges. And all of that just comes together beautifully in Protealis.”
Jérôme Van Biervliet Managing Director of VIB, says: "Protealis is a perfect example of entrepreneurship in the accelerating biotech ecosystem fostered by VIB. Through our collaborative journey with ILVO, we were able to couple breeding expertise with high-tech research and create an economic opportunity. The intense dedication of many colleagues in the team was vital to make this happen.”
Joris Relaes, administrator-general ILVO: "ILVO has been working towards local soy in our agri-food chain for 10 years. We are delighted that our highly specialized soy breeding program is now being given the opportunity to accelerate towards the market via our new spin-off. ILVO participates in Protealis. As a public research center, we have made constructive, clear, and fair agreements with the spin-off.”
Willem Broekaert from V-Bio Ventures: “We are proud to bring together a group of experienced investors supporting Protealis to become a leading player in the plant breeding sector, which historically has not seen much backing from venture capital. We are highly confident that the quality of the team and technology of Protealis will lead to significant value creation for all stakeholders.”
Professor Sofie Goormachtig (VIB-UGent), one of the scientific founders, adds: ”Beans are green! Legume plants are my favorite: besides their beautiful flowers, many produce protein-rich beans. On top of this, legumes get the nitrogen they require in a natural way through a fascinating endosymbiosis with rhizobia. With Protealis, we put legumes in the spotlight to strive for a European sustainable production of proteins.”
For more information: