Start-up U.S. crop company snags pharmaceutical executive as CEO

Start-up U.S. crop company snags pharmaceutical executive as CEO

By Carey Gillam

Symbiota, a start-up agricultural plant health company planning to tweak the capabilities of wheat, corn, soy and other crops in ways that improve yields, has named a former pharmaceutical executive as its president and chief executive officer.

David Perry joined Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Symbiota this week after leaving Anacor Pharmaceuticals Inc, a company he co-founded and ran from 2002 until last year.

Prior to starting Anacor, which develops products to treat infectious and inflammatory diseases, Perry founded two other companies in the life sciences industry.

Perry will lead Symbiota’s work in advanced agricultural seed products, specifically using microbes found naturally in plants for seed coatings to help crops resist pests and handle drought and other stress so they can yield more.

The company, whose board members include Robert Berendes, former head of global business development at Syngenta AG , has spent the last two years building up its research capabilities. It now has field trials underway on microbes that should help crops yield more with less water and fertilizer, while fighting disease.

“The field trial data was so compelling,” Perry said of his decision to join Symbiota. “We have a lot of data supporting the idea that we can have double-digit impacts on yield across multiple crops. If that holds up, it’s a real step change for agriculture.”

Global agricultural seed leaders Monsanto Co, Sygenta and others are also researching and developing microbial-based products for agriculture.

Perry would not say how quickly the company might bring a product to market, but added that development time and regulatory hurdles were low compared with both pharmaceutical products and genetically engineered crops.

“We’re not modifying nature in any way,” he said. “We’re simply identifying micro-organisms that are already beneficial to the plants and applying them in high concentrations to the seed.”

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