Seed World

Enko, Bayer Collaborate on New Chemistries for Safe Pesticides

Enko announced details on its partnership with Bayer to develop diverse chemistries for crop protection. Applying drug discovery approaches from pharma to crop protection will allow the companies to identify unexpected product candidates that safely target pests in new ways.

Superweeds are a crippling threat to growers worldwide. More than 250 weed species have developed resistance to herbicides designed to control them, and a strict regulatory environment sets a high bar for new products. Climate change is further compounding the problems for growers, opening up more regions to invasive weeds and threatening the resiliency of the food system.

Finding new selective chemistries is an important way to tackle pesticide resistance. This partnership uses Enko’s toolkit of proven pharma technologies — DNA-encoded libraries, machine learning and structural biology — to quickly assess more than 140 billion molecules based on specific target pest enzymes not found in people. The process identifies novel product starting points in new chemical families that haven’t been explored yet, eliminating pests through new pathways and combating resistance. The resulting molecules bind with the target pest like a lock and key, which means they are more effective in lower quantities and don’t interact with the surrounding environment. Farmers can apply less product, less often.

“There’s a vast chemical universe that can help growers with the urgent crop threats they’re facing — those molecules are just waiting to be found,” said Enko CEO Jacqueline Heard. “Borrowing from and building upon pharma innovations can help the agriculture industry solve these problems faster while building in safety guardrails from the start. Bayer has understood the synergies between these two industries for decades and is the right partner to accelerate our technology expertise.”

Enko’s target-based approach makes sure pesticide candidates are going to be safe, sustainable and effective before sinking years of resources into them. Only molecules that bind with the specific pest enzyme and don’t impact similar enzymes in other organisms continue on in discovery. This derisks development, increases success rates and speeds up time to market. The process is also trait-independent, so growers worldwide will be able to choose the best seeds for their operation when using the future herbicide and increase field resilience.

“Innovative thinking has been — and will continue to be — the engine that provides differentiated, sustainable solutions and broader choices for farmers and consumers,” said Shaun Selness, head of emerging technologies at Bayer Crop Science. “Our work with Enko helps us to accelerate the discovery of the latest crop protection technologies.”

The partnership is targeting the most common weeds worldwide, and the proof of concept phase will narrow down the best application.