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Plant Science Products Company Raises $6.1M in Early Funds

Quillaja saponaria trunk

Cross-section of Quillaja saponaria trunk, showing the red-colored bark containing a high concentration of saponin. (Patricio Novoa Quezada, Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/64933790@N00/25413087324/)

17 Jan. 2021. A maker of products derived from plants for vaccines and control of crop disease is raising $6.1 million in its first venture funding round. Botanical Solution Inc. in Davis, California is a two year-old company that develops bio-based materials from a plant species native to South America.

Botanical Solution derives agricultural and pharmaceutical products from substances in the Quillaja saponaria or soap bark tree originally found in Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. Quillaja saponaria is an evergreen tree with bark containing saponins, or foaming agents used in industrial chemicals. On their own, saponins in the bark can be toxic, but derivatives from the plant are being studied for their biomedical properties, particularly as a stimulant for the immune system. Gustavo Zuñiga, co-founder of Botanical Solution and the company’s chief scientist, is a plant biologist on the faculty at University of Santiago in Chile who studies plant physiology and production of bioactive molecules.

The company’s lead product, called BotriStop, is a bio-based fungicide to prevent and control Botrytis cinerea, or gray mold disease. Botrytis cinerea afflicts a broad range of food, fiber, and oil crop plants in temperate and subtropical regions. The fungus produces enzymes and toxins that degrade cell walls, causing exposed plant parts, as well as harvested fruits and vegetables, to rot. Botanical Solution says chemical extracts from Quillaja saponaria trees are produced in the lab for BotriStop, thus no trees are harvested for the product. In March 2021, the company agreed to distribute BotriStop in Mexico and South America through agricultural science company Syngenta.

Sustainable process for vaccine adjuvant

Botanical Solution is also developing a sustainable process for producing QS-21, a vaccine adjuvant that enhances immune system response. While QS-21 has long been produced from Quillaja saponaria bark, the company says the trees are threatened by climate change and local governments are increasingly protecting the trees from harvest. The company says its process, still in development, will make it possible to produce QS-21 in the lab without extracting chemicals directly from natural tree bark. That process, says Botanical Solution, will help ensure adequate adjuvant supplies for Covid-19 and other vaccines.

The company is raising $6.1 million in its first venture funding round, led by agriculture technology investor Otter Capital in Palo Alto, California. Joining the round are Botanical Solution’s Chilean seed-stage investors Inversiones el Coigue and Inversiones Eurocel, both in Santiago. Botanical Solution Inc. or BSI raised $3.3 million in seed funds in Dec. 2020.

“BSI’s product development platform is efficient and scalable,” says Otter Capital founder and managing member John Pasquesi in a Botantical Solution statement released through BusinessWire. “Botanical products have excellent consistency and BSI’s approach is truly sustainable. These products have applications in two very large markets: agriculture and pharmaceuticals.”

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