The biocontrol solutions market is facing crucial challenges and opportunities. Modern agricultural production technologies, based on the widespread use of pesticides and mineral fertilizers, have made possible to significantly solve the problem of providing the actual population with food, and at the same time, they have created numerous environmental problems. At present, the development and application of new plant protection products that are non-toxic to humans, animals and environment is of priority importance.
The global biopesticides market reached a value of US$ 3.96 Billion in 2020 (IMARC Group). Looking forward, it is expected that the market will grow at a CAGR of around 14% during 2021-2026. Intensifying efforts by the government and market players to incite the use of efficient and eco-friendly agri-inputs is likely to boost the market growth in the forthcoming years even if the market remains to be challenged by the logistical and associated economic impacts of the pandemic.
The challenge of time in biocontrol solutions
Scientific breakthroughs generally take a significant time to incubate and evolve into more than prototypes for wider application. Futureco Bioscience´s Pseudomonas putida strain B2017, discovered in 2013 and patented in 2021, has been submitted for evaluation as a new active substance for biocontrol use in Europe (RMS, Germany) in 2021, 8 years after its discovery. Considering the average evaluation times for active substances in the EU, formulations developed from P. putida strain B2017 are not expected to be on the market before 2025, and the company will be able to initiate the return on investment at least 12 years after its discovery. This is in line with the general trend of private R&D investments, that typically take 5–15 years to generate discernible payoffs and an average of 15–25 years to peak return.
It is clear, in this panorama, the critical importance of a healthy and ever-expanding pipeline, covering a good mix of candidates at different stage of development and with different degrees of associated risks. Indeed, Futureco Bioscience pipeline counts on a mature covering active substances from identification to pre-commercial stages: at the moment, the company reports four formulated microbial prototypes ready for registration (three bionematicides and one fungicide-bactericide) and one active substance in the registration phase (with biofungicide-bactericide activity).
Making the Transition: a challenge for the biocontrol market
As we know, the growing criticism of intensive agricultural practices that lead to a deterioration of natural resources and a decrease of biodiversity has progressively led to more environmental constraints being put on agricultural activities through an “ecologization” of agricultural policies. Through these policies governing bodies aim to reduce the use of chemicals and pesticides, to improve soil health quality and to develop and promote the use of organic practices.
As stakeholders in the production process, companies manufacturing biological pesticides need to take into consideration that the greening of agriculture will go through a challenging transition period, where integrated pest management practices are likely to take the lead and biological products to face new demands and scrutiny. Companies like Futureco Bioscience are making a great effort to support farmers in this transitional period, both developing biological products with high compatibility with conventional pesticides and reinforcing the field testing of mixed (conventional and biological) crop programs focused on long-term prevention and resistances avoidance. Indeed, NOFLY WP, a signature product of the company, is compatible with more than hundred traditional pesticides (80% of tested compatibilities).
New technologies: biocontrol oppotunities ahead
The industry is facing huge challenges, from rising costs of supplies, a shortage of labor, and changes in consumer preferences for transparency and sustainability. There is increasing recognition from agriculture corporations that innovative solutions are needed for these challenges. New technologies, applied to agriculture, represent the opportunity to respond to these challenges, making crops more profitable and farmland more valuable, and in turn to respond to the rising global food demand.
Futureco Bioscience, as biologicals manufacturer, is developing and implementing in its research several new promising molecular biocontrol technologies as cell-penetrating peptides (nano-molecules with the ability to translocate across cell membranes and deliver a variety of molecules that are unable to overcome the permeability barrier in their own capacity), RNA interference (species-selective pest control strategy involving silencing of essential genes required for the pest’s survival), or CRISPR-Cas9 (gene editing tool that uses short guide RNA sequences to direct the Cas9 enzyme to introduce a double-strand break in a particular sequence of pest’s DNA). Despite the hype and the huge potential, the company does not know when products based on these new technologies will be available commercially due to the need to overcome a series of technical difficulties (scalable production system, stable formulations and in some cases also very dependent on the environment), as well as reaching an adequate cost/Ha and clarifying/adapting the regulation to obtain authorization for commercialization.
The microbiome era in biocontrol solutions
Biocontrol research has long been focused on the study of single strains of biocontrol agents and on their interaction with pathogens and host plants. High-throughput sequencing (or next-generation sequencing – NGS) technologies combine the strength of genomics, systems biology, and bioinformatics with the power of genomics to decipher soil biology, allowing agricultural practices optimization and soil health improvement. For the first time, it will be possible to put soil health at the very core of biocontrol strategies, studying microbial communities at a very fine resolution while using holistic approaches.
Genomaat is Futureco Bioscience´s platform for soil metagenomic analysis. Genomaat offers tailor-made microbial solutions and customized treatment programs based on the distinctive characteristics of the analyzed crop and the company’s unique collection of microorganisms, together with “Bioenhancers” – products to ensure optimal microbial adaptation and activity, when required. Genomaat develops in three phases: initial functional diagnosis, ad hoc microbiota engineering and microbes farming, and finally evaluation of the improved functionality. The core phase of soil microbiota optimization lays its foundations on the long trajectory of Futureco Bioscience in the agribiotech field and the cumulative experience in biostimulant products.