Calyxt’s Non-trans Fat Soybean Variety on Target for 2018
Roseville-based Calyxt Inc., built around gene editing technology developed at the University of Minnesota, is on target for a 2018 commercial launch of a potentially groundbreaking new type of soybean for use in non-trans fat oils, its French parent firm says.
Andre Choulika, chairman and CEO of the Paris-based biopharmaceutical firm Cellectis SA (Nasdaq: CLLS), told analysts recently that Calyxt’s potential to become world’s “first commercial pure play gene-editing agricultural company” was enhanced with its 2016 results, which included significant progress on test production of its non-trans fat soybean variety, dubbed CAL-1501.
“In October, Calyxt completed an expansion of its high-oleic/non-trans fat soybean variety, CAL-1501, in the U.S. with the production of 1,200 tons of soybeans,” Choulika said. “This positions CAL-1501 for a commercial launch by 2018 after two more rounds of amplification.”
He hailed the market timing of CAL-1501, which was developed through the use of the U of M-licensed TALENs gene editing platform. Its launch will come around the same time the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expects to implement a ban in the use of partially hydrogenated oils — the primary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods.
Calyxt’s variety of soybeans have a high-oleic/low saturated fat profile, making them similar to olive oil. The high-oleic acid content is designed to eliminate the need for hydrogenation, a process that improves heat stability and shelf life of conventional soybean oil but also contributes to the production of trans fatty acids, which, when consumed, raises “bad” cholesterol levels and contributes to cardiovascular diseases.
Reducing trans fat consumption by avoiding artificial trans fat could prevent 10,000 to 20,000 heart attacks and 3,000 to 7,000 coronary heart disease deaths each year, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control.
“There will be a shortage in supply for high-oleic, non-trans fat soybean oil (starting in 2018),” Choulika said. “And we think that it will probably drive a big request for this in the supply chain.”
The TALEN method, invented by Calyxt chief scientific officer and U of M professor Dan Voytas, produces plants regarded as non-GMO. That’s because unlike controversial GMO foods, there is no introduction of foreign DNA into the plant genome, such as is done to enhance the ability to crops to resist pesticides. Instead, the TALEN process is used only to strategically deactivate genes to achieve desired traits, such as to produce less fat in a soybean, and thus is seen as essentially no different from naturally occurring mutations.
In the analysts’ call, Choulika called the pending change in the FDA’s regulatory environment “favorable” for Calyxt, which has already gained acknowledgement from the agency that its soybeans are not regarded as GMO, since no foreign DNA is added in the development process.
He predicted the pending ban of partially hydrogenated oils will help “really power the commercialization” of the Minnesota company.
“The vision for Calyxt is to be the leading pure play gene-editing agricultural biotechnology company, focused on developing healthier crops that are in direct response to consumer needs while satisfying modern farming yield expectations— all without the use of transgenes (GMOs),” he said.
Calyxt, the CEO said, had a cash position of $291 million at the end 2016. It has been dependent on Cellectis for its capital needs up until now, such as an outlay of around $10 million to establish its new headquarters in Roseville, including up to five acres of agricultural test fields, greenhouses and a 40,000-square-foot combination research lab/office building. But in the future, he said, the subsidiary will be expected to make its own way in the capital markets.
“We have great ambitions for Calyxt,” Choulika said. “This company can be turned to a leader in the field of agriculture in the coming year and decade.
“Cellectis, of course, financed Calyxt totally up to now, but the goal is for them to fly by their own wings in the future and to have their own potential. We have to match capital with these ambitions in order to reach the goals they’ve targeted. Therefore, we anticipate them to find their own finances and fly by themselves.”
Calyxt, he added, “is a company that has unprecedented potential for the next 50 years in the ag space. If there is one pure player in the field of gene-editing in the ag space that can make it to the top, it’s probably Calyxt. And Cellectis will help them with this opportunity as much as we can in the future.”