Pontifax participates in $110m funding round in ninth deal from debut fund

Precision BioSciences will use the capital raised to extend its gene-editing technology from human therapeutics to the agri-food industry.

Pontifax Agtech has chalked up another transaction for its debut vehicle after taking part in a $110 million series B funding round for Precision BioSciences led by Denver-based ArrowMark Partners.

This brings Pontifax’s deal count to nine, less than three quarters after the California-based firm closed its debut fund on $105 million, surpassing its initial target of $100 million, Pontifax managing partner Ben Belldegrun told Agri Investor. Belldegrun declined to disclose how much capital the vehicle has deployed so far.

Co-founder Phil Erlanger told Agri Investor last year that the fund’s limited partners include a large insurance company, a large university endowment, a fund of funds and multiple family offices, among others.

Precision, a North Carolina-based company that runs a gene-editing platform, intends to use the capital to become a more integrated biotechnology business. In particular, Belldegrun said, Pontifax was interested in the business because of its potential for further extending applications of its gene-editing techniques from human therapeutics to food and agriculture.

The deal comes after Pontifax helped lead a $10 million Series A round for Tropic Biosciences, a UK-headquartered plant-breeding business that uses gene editing to develop tropical crops. Belldegrun said there was no plan for Tropic and Precision to combine functions or resources at this stage but that both could team up to educate customers about the benefits of the technology.

Partnerships in the DNA

Areas already targeted by Precision and its food and agriculture business, Elo Life Systems, include crop improvement, animal genetics, industrial biotechnology and sustainable agriculture. To that end, the company has been working on a number of partnerships to leverage its growing expertise and target new markets, Elo Life chief executive Fayaz Khazi told Agri Investor.

The highest-profile of such tie-ups is probably Elo Life’s alliance with Cargill, through which the start-up and the agri major hope to develop and produce canola oil with reduced fat content. The produce is set to be used in quick-service restaurants and food ingredients industries, as well as products made with it – particularly fried foods. Other partnerships with corporate players are in the pipeline, Khazi said, though he declined to comment further on these.

Elo Life is also seeking allies in the academic world, he added. This month, the company joined forces with Queensland University of Technology to develop and sell protein-rich and nutritionally enhanced tropical and sub-tropical horticultural and grain crops in Queensland. One of the pair’s first joint initiatives will be to develop drought-tolerant and disease-resistant chickpeas, as well as chickpea varieties with higher protein, iron and zinc content, the partners said.