RTP startup AgBiome wins regulatory approval of its first fungicide

Agricultural biotechnology company AgBiome recently won regulatory approval of its first product, a fungicide that will be sold under the brand name Zio. The Research Triangle Park company also anticipates obtaining approval for a second fungicide in a matter of weeks.

Zio and the second fungicide, Howler, are essentially the same product with a slight variation. But they are aimed at very different markets and will be sold by different sales teams, said John Rabby, commercial director of AgBiome Innovations, the company’s commercial arm.

Zio will be marketed to the turf and ornamental sector – that is, golf courses, lawn care operators, nurseries, sports fields and the like – and will be sold by SePRO, a specialty chemical company based in Indiana. AgBiome unveiled its partnership with SePRO in July.

Howler will be marketed for use on specialty crops such as tomatoes, lettuce, berries and tobacco, and will be sold by AgBiome Innovations. The company currently has a handful of sales personnel and expects to ramp up to 15 within the next 12 months or so, Rabby said.

Both Zio and Howler are natural, or biological, fungicides. In the case of Howler, that means it could be used by organic farmers.

However, Rabby said that the company’s testing has found Howler to be so effective against common fungi that plague plants that the marketing pitch will focus on its efficacy.

“We believe we can compete against a lot of the synthetic products,” he said. “We’re going after the entire fungicide market.”

AgBiome anticipates that the Environmental Protection Agency will give the company the go-ahead to start selling Howler in three or four weeks.

Today AgBiome, which got its start at the end of 2012 and has raised more than $50 million from investors, has 77 full-time employees – double what it had in the summer of 2015.

AgBiome has a third crop protection product that it hopes will win EPA approval next year and another half-dozen products in the pipeline that could hit the market in the next two to four years, Rabby said.

“We are striving very hard to be an innovation leader for new products, new modes of action and new solutions for growers,” Rabby said.

AgBiome focuses on identifying novel microbes in soils and plants that can lead to new types of fungicides and insecticides.

David Ranii: 919-829-4877, @dranii