Limerick University spinoff in global biotech license deal

13 Jan 2010

A Limerick biotech firm’s patented equipment could make plant-gene analysis faster and cheaper and the company has just struck a major licensing and R&D collaboration with US New York Stock Exchange-listed firm Monsanto.

The deal is expected to help accelerate the pace of new advancements in plant breeding.

Under the agreement, which is a significant global win for Irish research, Monsanto has exclusive rights to Stokes Bio’s patented technology for use in agriculture.

About plant breeding

In plant breeding, genotyping or gene analysis is used to identify the seeds or plants with the most desirable characteristics, such as better yield or disease resistance. Currently, gene analysis is limited by the number of samples that can be processed at one time and the turnaround time per sample. 

Stokes Bio’s system utilises microfluidic technology that can provide the same evaluations using much smaller sample sizes – as little as 1/1000th of what is currently required – which continually flow through the system in nanoliter-size droplets.

The instrument can evaluate up to 100,000 data points per hour, making it more efficient than any currently-used methods of gene analysis. It is capable of generating more data in less time, using less sample and reagent, and at a lower cost than existing technologies.

Stokes Bio will deliver a number of these next-generation genotyping instruments to Monsanto this year.

Monsanto benefit

“Monsanto’s strength lies in our robust discovery engine, which fuels our industry-leading R&D pipeline” said Bob Reiter, vice-president of breeding technology for Monsanto. “We are constantly looking for opportunities to collaborate with other companies and adopt new technologies that could help speed up the rate of scientific discovery.

“More efficient gene analysis means we can leverage this knowledge in our technology pipeline and be able to offer our farmer customers innovative products that boost productivity on the farm, faster than ever.”

About Stokes Bio

Stokes Bio was established in 2005 by Mark Davies and Tara Dalton, with financing from Kernel Capital, as a spin-off company from the Stokes Institute at the University of Limerick. In addition to Kernel Capital, the University of Limerick and Enterprise Ireland also are shareholders in the company.

“The new technology has applications in areas ranging from plant genetics through the entire spectrum of human healthcare,” said Mark Davies, co-founder of Stokes Bio.

“These new instruments will allow identification of plants with the best gene pool at a much earlier stage. It is necessary to look beyond the technology to appreciate what a step forward this could be in terms of food production.”

The agreement is an excellent validation of Stoke Bio’s core platform, said Daniel O’Mahony, a partner in Kernel Capital. “We believe Stokes Bio’s technology will revolutionise gene expression profiling in the future,” O’Mahony said.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years