Kaiima Bio Agritech to focus on castor oil crops

Agriculture Photo: Tamar Matsafi

The Israeli seed breeding company has apparently failed in its efforts to replicate genomes.

Seeds company Kaiima Bio Agritech, which formerly developed crop improvement technology, has shifted its business focus following problems with its main technology, sources inform "Globes." According to the IVC database, the company has raised $92.5 million since it was founded.

Sources inform "Globes" that the company will now focus on the castor oil plant. Its product in this segment involves no genetic engineering. The company's product for replicating plant genomes, which it previously announced would become commercial in 2016, has been shelved for the time being; Kaiima is now describing it as a long-term product. The company's business in Israel has consequently waned while it focuses on the US, and especially Brazil, known for its castor oil crops.

Kaiima also sold Top Seeds, responsible for its vegetable growing business, to Japanese company Mitsui & Co. for several million dollars. Top Seeds was founded before Kaiima, and was later merged into the latter. Top Seeds is continuing its business in Israel after the acquisition, and has 25 employees in the country. The company has developed tomatoes rich in lycopene, an active ingredient in tomatoes that has health advantages.

Kaiima already has revenue from its castor oil plant business, and has enough cash to last for several more years, but the company is known mostly for the possibility that it will replicate the genome. The company's vision brought it high-profile investors, such as Li Ka Shing and the World Bank. Kaiima explains that that it is still supporting its unique technology, but now defines it as making various changes in the genome, not genome replication. The company adds that it has signed a number of cooperation agreements with leading seeds companies (BASF, for example). It will take the company's technology at least five years to reach the market, however, if it ever does.

Kaiima, which was founded by Doron Gal in 2006, is now managed by executive chairman Mark Chess and CEO Rick Greubel, has 22 employees, and operates from Moshav Sharona in the lower Galilee. A source very familiar with the seeds market explains, "Replicating genomes without genetic engineering, the idea on which Kaiima based its technology according to previous reports, is something that occurs in nature. In the wheat we eat, for example, there are six times as many genomes in every seed cell than there are in wild wheat. The company's basic assumption was that replicating the genomes would double the crop, but someone familiar with the sector thought that this claim was unclear. Replicating the genome can also harm the plant, for example by making it sterile or limiting the number of its seeds. It is possible that Kaiima may have had a special method for replicating the genome, or of selecting the right plants in order to improve the method's effectiveness. As far as we know, the company did not succeed in this task, and this activity does not actually exist right now. Maybe they have new ideas." Other seeds market sources confirm this explanation.

Chase told "Globes," "Kaiima is still developing enhanced ploidy technology (the company's original technology, which was formerly linked to genome replication, and which the company now calls "genome change" - G.W.) because of its ability to generate value in the long term, but the company is now investing aggressively in castor oil in Brazil. Castor oil products are already being sold in Brazil, and the demand is outstripping the production capacity. This is a multi-billion dollar market, and the R&D department in Israel is supporting this. Our goal is to reach $100 million in revenue in revenue just in Brazil." The company boasts that its castor oil is more uniform because its seeds are located at the head of the plant, making it easier to harvest them by machine, rather than by hand. This castor oil, however, was not developed using the company's ploidy technology; the technology used was more similar to conventional growing.

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on October 25, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

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Agriculture Photo: Tamar Matsafi
Agriculture Photo: Tamar Matsafi
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