Vestaron pursuing global expansion of agchem pipeline, CEO says

Vestaron, a Kalamazoo, Michigan-based developer of biologic crop protection products, is evaluating its options to accelerate its global expansion, said CEO Anna Rath.

“At one end of the spectrum, we could choose to sell international rights to our products and use that proceeds to further development in the US,” she said. “At the other end of the spectrum, we could decide to proceed with international registrations on our own, so that we maintain full ownership of all international rights and are then in a position to gain a larger share of the downstream value from the product.”

The company, which provides peptide-based biopesticides for field and greenhouse growers with a focus on protecting high-value crops, is eyeing Canada and Mexico as key markets for near-term expansion, Rath said. Vestaron has initiated trials in both countries, she added.

The European Union, whose regulators have been pushing for environmentally friendly agricultural chemical (agchem) products, as well as major agricultural markets in Latin America and Asia also hold promise, Rath added.

Vestaron has taken in USD 86m in outside capital to-date—most recently raising USD 40m in a Series B round. Rath said the company could tap outside markets for additional funding early next year as it grows outside the US.

“It really depends on what kind of international strategy we decide to pursue, and how aggressively we decide to move the pipeline ahead,” she explained.

Founded by a molecular biologist at University of Queensland, Vestaron has launched two products that target greenhouse and field growers in all 50 US states. It sells through a network of distributors and retailers, according to Rath.

Last June, Rath was named Vestaron’s CEO, succeeding John Sorenson who died early last year, to lead the firm’s transition from the R&D phase to commercialization.

Vestaron’s investors include Novo Holdings, Anterra Capital, Cultivian Sandbox, Open Prairie Ventures and Pangaea Ventures.

Vestaron is unique in that it is focused on biologic molecules that have proven modes of action and safety and environmental attributes, Rath said. The CEO compared Vestaron’s strategy to the transition the pharmaceutical industry underwent 20 years ago, from a focus on small-molecule chemicals to a focus on safer biologicals.

Vestaron aims to expand its product portfolio to include a broad range of biological crop protection products such as fungicides and antimicrobials and to eventually become “the leader in developing peptide-based biologic protection products,” Rath said.

For the long term, Rath said Vestaron will likely make an attractive target for major agchem companies, declining to provide additional details. The company could also “easily” be an IPO candidate, she said, although there is no set timing for an exit at this time.

“Vestaron is the clear parallel to Amgen or Genentech, which were the first companies to really work with the bigger biological molecules—but with known isolated molecules where you could completely understand their modes of action,” she said. “There is no reason why Vestaron couldn’t be the Amgen or the Genentech of agchem.”

Amgen [NASDA:AMGN] and Genentech, now a Roche Group [OTCMKTS:RHHBY] company, went public in 1983 and 1980, respectively.

The CEO declined to disclose the company’s financials but said it expects to add 15 employees to its current 20 by year-end.

~ by Liying Qian in Chicago