Targenomix & Bayer
Data science startup & Bayer team up to crack codes of herbicide candidates
Can a start-up team of 25 young scientists successfully partner with a large conglomerate like Bayer? Here is the story of an unusual partnership.
We are a start-up backed by the scope and expertise of a global Life Science company. And that’s super cool”
Dr. Sebastian Klie,
Just a few years ago they were all successful post-docs pursuing their own different careers, every one of them a passionate scientist who had turned a hobby into a profession. However, they were following their scientific passion individually, as lone wolves. So when Bayer invited them to combine their collective skills for a real life challenge beyond initial research, they did not think twice: they would employ a new system biology-centered approach to find molecules that can help agricultural production to keep pace with global challenges such as climate change, population explosion, and emerging weed resistance.
As a result, the 25 scientists – boasting expertise in from molecular biology, plant physiology and bioinformatics, biochemistry to electro engineering and software development – founded a start-up and named it Targenomix. Their contribution to the partnership includes providing technologies, methods, plant know-how, as well as their commitment to a revolutionary idea: the Targenomix approach for identifying herbicidal modes of action.
In return, Bayer provides access to its chemical know how and lab infrastructure, its brimming screening pipeline, and to all the logistical support they needed to focus on 100% science.
3 questions to Dr. Sebastian Klie
Targenomix CEO talks about the partnership
1 Dr. Klie, how would you describe level of cooperation in this partnership with Bayer?
At eye level, definitely. We are a partner, not a service provider. Targenomix is an independent company, and we are a part of a bigger picture. A dedicated Bayer liaison officer makes sure that even though we benefit from the expertise of a big company like Bayer, we steer free of any bureaucratic restrictions so that we can maintain our start-up dynamics and creativity.
2 What is new about the Targenomix approach?
In the past, biochemists exposed the weed to a compound, measured and quantified its effect, and then drew their conclusions as to its mode of action in a hypothesis driven way. We suggested a holistic procedure: simply speaking, using systems biology, we are able to test 20,000 or more targets in a plant simultaneously. As we measure the behavior of all genes, proteins and metabolites with omics technologies, we have a completely untargeted approach to identify where the molecule attacks the weed. Applying this methodology to mode-of-action elucidation was new – and risky. Nobody knew if it would work. But Bayer believed we could do it.
3 What is the next step in your partnership?
We have proven the Targenomix approach for identifying modes of action, now we are about to take the next step. Together with Bayer’s toxicology experts we are discussing the possibility of testing whether our technologies are also capable of identifying safety issues in new molecules. Again, nobody knows if it will work. It would be a risk both partners are taking. But that is what’s fascinating about this partnership: we all leave our comfort zones and pioneer into unknown territory. After all, that’s where the added value is.