Brazil’s developing economy is supporting an emerging biotech startup scene. Catch a glimpse of the biotech companies causing a stir in Brazil.
Over the decades, Brazil has grown into an agricultural powerhouse and has the biggest economy in South America. The nation is the world’s second-largest producer of biotech crops, with increasing land devoted to growing genetically engineered plants.
Brazil is also home to an emerging biotech startup scene, with the majority of its biotech companies based in São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro. Some of the main backers of biotech startups include universities, public funding bodies and investment firms.
Here, we list five of Brazil’s rising stars in the biotech industry, with a range of technology under development including oncolytic viruses, genomics and gene-edited crops.
Headquarters: São Paulo, Brazil, and New Hampshire, U.S.
Autem Therapeutics made headlines this year when the firm bagged $10 million in a Series A-1 round. The company is using the cash to finance the development of a cancer therapy based on electrical stimulation of tumor cells.
Autem’s technology is designed to restore the metabolic rhythms of cancer cells, which can become desynchronized from those of surrounding healthy tissue, leading to a lack of nutrients for healthy tissue.
So far, Autem’s device has received breakthrough designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The company plans to prepare the therapy for testing in large clinical trials in late 2022 or early 2023.
Decoy Smart Control
Headquarters: Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo
Pests such as ticks can infest cattle in agriculture, reducing the production of milk and meat. Farmers typically use harsh chemical treatments for ticks. However, these toxic chemicals can sometimes end up in milk and meat products, in addition to harming wildlife.
To solve these problems, Decoy Smart Control is developing a fungal treatment for ticks. When sprayed on animals, the fungus kills ticks at all stages of their lifecycle. Meanwhile, the treatment is designed to be safer for human health and the environment than traditional chemical pesticides.
Decoy recently raised $2 million in funding to commercialize its technology. The Brazilian biotech company expects to reach the market with its bovine treatment next year, and plans to develop similar treatments for ticks and lice in dogs and cats.
Headquarters: São Paulo
Gen-t launched with the mission to improve ethnic diversity in collections of human genome sequences. At present, the majority of precision medicine research is based on genomic data from populations with European ancestry. Therefore, other populations could be losing out on the main benefits of precision medicine.
Gen-t’s solution is to systematically collect genetic data from diverse populations in Brazil and study genetic traits associated with disease in these populations. The firm aims to recruit over 200,000 participants to donate clinical and DNA samples.
To finance its business and research, Gen-t recently raised 10 million Brazilian Real (US$2 million).
Headquarters: Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil
InEdita Bio emerged in 2022 with a mission to apply gene editing to producing strains of crops that are more efficient and resistant to disease than current crops.
The firm has its crosshairs on crops that have been intensively bred to improve their yield, but have lost genes related to pest and disease resistance during the breeding process. InEdita specifically edits DNA sequences known as regulatory elements, which are able to turn on or off specific genes.
InEdita has the backing of the Brazilian venture capital firm Vesper Ventures. The biotech company is currently developing strains of soybean that are resistant to the disease Asian rust, in addition to maize that is better able to fight off pests than current strains.
Headquarters: São Paulo
Vyro Bio is another Vesper-backed startup that was launched last year. The company aims to develop a viral therapy for childhood cancers in the central nervous system (CNS).
CNS cancers are very challenging to treat as they are isolated from most of the immune system behind the blood-brain barrier. To solve this problem, Vyro’s viral therapy is designed to cross this barrier and selectively recruit local immune cells to attack the cancer.
Vyro has a wide range of viral therapies at the drug discovery and preclinical stage. The biotech company is also exploring the potential to combine the therapy with other types of cancer therapy such as cancer vaccines and CAR-T cell therapy.
More local funding needed for Brazil’s biotech companies
While Brazil has a solid foundation of academic research in biotechnology, the common perception is that the research needs to spawn innovative companies more easily. To unlock the nation’s full scale of biotech expertise, more local funders and venture creators like Vesper Ventures will be needed going forward.