Oxitec‘s self-limiting gene technique, which is designed to exterminate dangerous insects, has a price now: $160M (€146M). US-based Intrexon absorbed the Oxford University’s spinout with its unique technology to accelerate the crackdown of dengue infections and crop damages.
As we reported early this year, Intrexon Corporation recently partnered across diverse markets, all being part of the wide range of synthetic biology. For example, the company acts in concert with Merck Serono to overcome current challenges of CAR-T therapy. Or, as a totally different part of synthetic biology, Intrexon acquired Okanagan Specialty Fruits, the agricultural company behind the world’s first non-browning apple.
Intrexon’s newest purchase is a British pioneer in biological insect control solutions: Oxitec. The latter developed a self-limiting gene approach to control mosquitoes that spread disease and to limit pest-related crop damage. Modified male insects are introduced to a harmful population of a distinct species. They will mate with the females, but their offspring cannot mature, a feature that should eventually lead to a crash of the population. In both fields of applications, diseases and crop damage, the strategy already showed super results.
Intrexon’s Chairman and CEO, Randal J. Kirk, believes that Oxitec’s technology provides “an historic achievement” because it can degrade a major disease carrier without impairing its surroundings. “Oxitec’s technology demonstrates that engineered biology can solve some of mankind’s most difficult problems – many that have eluded solutions for a very long time – while exercising tremendous respect for the environment. Because our technology platforms are so complementary, we believe this combination will allow us to address a wider range of threats to global health and food security in new, responsible and exciting ways.”
Among this applications is the world’s fastest-growing mosquito-born disease, dengue fever, spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. During open field trials in Brazil, Panama, Grand Cayman and Malaysia, Oxitec’s introduced modified mosquitos led to over 90% reduction of the Aedes aegypti pest population – an impressive result. Brazil’s National Technical Commission for Biosecurity approved the safety of Oxitec’s mosquitoes in 2014, an important step towards full commercialization.
In addition to health programs, Intrexon intends to work on furthering Oxitec’s technology applications in agriculture as an estimated 20% to 40% of food production is lost every year to insect pests despite widespread pesticide use.
In return, Oxitec’ stockholders receive approximately $80M (€78M) in Intrexon’s common stock and $80M in cash. The sum represents a succes for Oxitec, as it is the 8-fold amount of its raised €18M as of 2014. Moreover, the aquirement is likely to propel the application of the modified insects to combat disease vectors and pest-related crop damage. If the approach can keep its promise, the speed-up serves to establish an efficiant, species-specific alternative to disputed insecticides.