“The objective right now is to build our capabilities and grow our market. I see us with a broader portfolio of products and being a consolidator in the industry.”
UK-headquartered biopesticide company Eden Research has recently raised £10.4m through a placing and subscription to help fund the commercialisation of its green products. The company claims that it is currently the only UK-listed company focused on biopesticides for sustainable agriculture and is well positioned to capitalise on the rapidly growing biopesticides market, which is projected to be worth more than £10bn.
Liz Gyekye (LG): Welcome to 5 Minutes With. Please summarise your role and what you specialise in?
Sean Smith (SS): It changes day in and day out and depends on the needs of the organisation. Up until the fundraise one month ago, my role was to make sure we were successful in funding our initiatives going forward. I look at a range of issues – strategy, direction, team building, funding, dealing with investors, among other things. I like to be involved with all aspects of the business. I especially like walking around with farmers and speaking with them on the ground. This helps us with priorities and remind us of why we do what we do.
LG: What were you doing before this role?
SS: I have a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and more than 25 years’ experience in the speciality chemicals and industrial biotechnology industries. I have held senior commercial leadership roles ranging from sales and marketing to business management and intellectual property licensing in blue chip companies such as Ciba (now BASF) and Honeywell. In recent years, I focussed on technology commercialisation through licensing and company formation working with Intellectual Ventures and several start-ups.
LG: The traditional farming industry is going through a bit of transformation at the moment. More and more farmers are demanding organic products. How is Eden Research positioning itself to be a part of this journey?
SS: Eden Research is focused on both conventional and organic agriculture, and it is taking the same approach for both of these areas. Overall, we focus on sustainable chemistry. We are taking active ingredients that plants themselves use, we package them up in a clever delivery system and then formulate them in a way that allows us to tackle a wide range of crop diseases and pest targets. Essential oils like tea tree, clove and thyme are all packed full of interesting chemistry. They contain molecules that make up a plant’s defence system. These are classified as terpenes. Essentially, we are taking versions of these, packaging them up and then creating products.
Eden’s active ingredients – geraniol, eugenol and thymol – were all approved for use in organic farming by the EU in 2013. This is really unheard for a company our size. When we got this approval, there were only ten new active substances approved that year by the EU.
By registering three active ingredients, we can combine those in different ways to make a broad range of products with different effects. For instance, our fungicide is based on a combination of three of those active ingredients. Currently, we are looking at new insecticide formulations and seed treatments based on those active ingredients
The decision to register our portfolio of active ingredients was a good one. We have an interesting platform of products and a great one to make new ones from.
LG: Eden Research managed to raise £10.4m to develop its biopesticide products? Tell me a bit more about this?
SS: We did a business case analysis and went to investors and said that we had very good products that can tackle key segments of the insecticide market. The insecticide market is being disrupted at the moment with the withdrawal of a large number of products because of regulatory pressure. We put this case to investors who understood it and were happy to support us, which was great. The proceeds will be used to develop new insecticide formulations and seed treatments.
As well as insecticides, seed treatments are another area where we have seen significant product withdrawals. Conventional pesticides like neonicotinoids (neonics) are being removed from the market because of their link to harming insects like bees. This significantly impacts the seed treatment market and farmers are now looking for alternative products to use.
At Eden Research, we have seen this as a massive opportunity to develop sustainable chemistry solutions for crop protection and seed treatment. So far, so good.
LG: How do you find the regulatory environment at the moment?
SS: It’s not so easy to register biopesticide products. The process is just like registering conventional ones. Recently, in Europe, has become a bit easier to do this. However, it is not all plain sailing. We have just hired Dr. Michael Carroll as our new Director of Regulatory Affairs. Carroll is a leading figure in the field of crop protection products development and registration.He is very experienced and has walked in some of the most difficult shoes there is to walk in.
Overall, it is quite difficult to get products registered. It is not only difficult to do this in the US and the EU, but Latin America as well. Latin America has some of the most stringent regulatory requirements in the world, especially in Brazil, where it can take up to seven years to get a product to the market.
The rate of change in our industry is absolutely driven by regulation and regulation is driven by consumer sentiment.
LG: How do food consumers view your product?
SS: Consumers don’t tend to have much visibility about what is happening with their food. However, they do have a high level of concern around toxic chemicals being used in agriculture and pesticide residues on their food. Pre-Covid-19, the latter issue was always in the news and making headlines.
LG: Post-Covid-19, how do you see the agricultural landscape panning out?
SS: It’s going to change the way we see the environment forever. I think it’s also going to change the way we see food forever. Food shortages always seemed abstract for the majority of people in the world. Now, we are all seeing these things. Most of us have been lucky, living where we do, to not face these anxieties, but now we are facing it. I really hope that this will translate into increased awareness of sustainability and increased awareness of food waste.
LG: To what extent is legislation helping you to develop your products?
SS: The consumer is the driver of change in our industry because of their concerns around toxic chemicals and pesticides. Regulation is a vehicle that the consumer is driving. Consumers and NGOs are applying a lot of pressure to governments to improve policymaking around the safety and sustainability of agriculture. And, regulations are changing and products are being withdrawn from the market. The largest pesticide called chlorophenol used in the UK was recently withdrawn from the market. What this means is that farmers have fewer and fewer choices.
This has led to some farmers pulling crops like oil-seed rape out the ground because they can’t successfully grow it anymore without the use of traditional pesticides. We want to give growers sustainable options. Our job is to give them effective tools to do their jobs happily and sustainably.
LG: Looking back over the year so far, what has been the greatest achievement?
SS: The fundraiser for us was transformative. So, that was our greatest achievement. Raising £10.4m was the most amount of money we have ever raised. It will allow us to do things more quickly and allow us to control our own destiny. It allows us to take an optimal path forward rather than compromising to achieve our objectives.
LG: And, what are the biggest lessons learned?
SS: Speed is really important. In crop protection if you miss you an important trial, like a regulatory trial or marketing trial, you generally miss a whole year.
LG: Where do you see Eden Research in five years’ time?
SS: The objective right now is to build our capabilities and grow our market. I see us with a broader portfolio of products and being a consolidator in the industry. We want to be the partner of choice for our existing and potential partners. Somebody who can reliably develop, produce and market sustainable products for crop protection. We have some outstanding commercial partners and that group of commercial partners is growing all the time. If we continue doing what we are doing we are going to be a considerable player in the biopesticide space.
LG: What’s your favourite bio-based product?