Lower production levels are pretty much expected all across the horti board due to ever-increasing production costs. We have seen some growers in the UK or the Netherlands, for instance, that didn’t plant at all. Others had to find ways to cope with that, such as turning the lights off more often or lowering the HVAC load. Yet, all these solutions eventually result in a lower yield. And on top of all of that, there is a threat growers have to constantly face that might hurt their crops: pests and pathogens. “Climate change is also impacting the types of diseases and insects that come into a greenhouse,” says Patrice Sellès, CEO of Biotalys.
When it comes to possible solutions, options are limited. “The thing is, the use of chemical crop protection is not really advisable,” Patrice continues. “The reasons are twofold: on the one hand, growers have a very tight threshold to hit the highest quality and the highest price, which is hard to get to if there’s too much chemical residue on the produce. On the other hand, with limited innovation in the chemical space, resistance is a growing issue against both pests and diseases. So, a product would become less effective as time passes. On top of this, the use of beneficials is usually not compatible with chemicals in the greenhouse.” So, while there are some benefits to using chemical products, the trade-off might be too much for the grower.
Heavy chain antibodies to fight pathogens
That is why Biotalys has leveraged a technology that has been deployed in Belgium for 25 years in pharmaceuticals based on antibodies. “We generate heavy chain antibodies and identify a small protein portion, which targets a specific pest or pathogen,” Patrice continues. “The solution comes as a foliar spray, is very stable, and has a normal shelf life – you don’t need to keep it in the fridge. When applying this, growers don’t have to change their habits, and it’s completely safe and fully biodegradable.
Biotalys was founded in 2013, and from a small private company, it went public last year with really good results. “Our share price has been very stable during the last year, while the whole industry has been struggling. As a small company, that was quite an achievement and spoke volumes about our capacity to execute,” Patrice remarks.
Over the past year, indeed, the company has hit multiple milestones that are setting them up to hit the market in the most efficient way possible, Patrice points out. “Over the months after we went IPO, we signed a distribution deal with Biobest, found a manufacturing partner in Italy (Olon), and a key formulator for our product in Austria (Kwizda). In other words, we are setting up the cornerstones of production through our global partnerships.”
The company has had even more visibility after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation got them on board for a project to utilize Biotalys’ technology for the biocontrol of key crops in Africa. “We received a $6 million grant to leverage our tech to combat diseases that target the cowpea legume,” Patrice recounts. “They came to us and asked if we could create a product for this challenge. Our tech matched the requirements, and we embarked on this program at the beginning of this year.”
Coming to the US
Right now, the company is prepping to hit the market with its Evoca biocontrol product. “The product is obtained by fermentation. We depend much less on fossil sources to manufacture our final product. To make the manufacturing even more efficient, we have partnered with Novozymes, one of the leading fermenters in the world for enzymes. This collaboration is to identify if, with their tech, we could get above and beyond what we achieved ourselves. We are trying to accelerate the ability of Biotalys to release a product in the market fast, and that is also affordable.” Evoca is expected to be available in select US markets as a market calibration in 2023, pending regulatory approval.
From the left: Evoca program on cucumbers, cucumbers with botrytis
“The next generation of Evoca with broad commercial coverage is expected for 2026, while a new product with a different mode of action is expected by 2028 to complement growers’ need for resistance management. That product will have a different mode of action and will be capable of replacing two different chemicals, thus reducing drastically the amount of pesticides one normally uses,” he explains.
“We will continue to build our pipeline according to the needs of the industry. We are looking at different insects and bacteria and finding modes to address them with our tech. At the same time, we are also further looking for partnerships to better deliver our product and to find solutions that address growers’ daily challenges.”