A Medford-based synthetic biology company whose research ranges from developing pesticide alternatives for crops to a COVID-19 vaccine candidate plans to go public to advance its RNA manufacturing platform.
GreenLight Biosciences agreed to merge with Environmental Impact Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company, in a deal that values the firm — which has not yet brought a product to market — at about $1.2 billion.
Founded in 2008, GreenLight got started in the RNA field around the same time as Moderna and BioNTech, companies whose technologies now power two mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. RNA is a nucleic acid found in all living cells, and several companies are using it to develop new drugs.
But GreenLight focuses on figuring out how to produce RNA cheaply and at scale, so that any products resulting from its technology would be affordable and accessible across the globe. It started out by developing agriculture products, but then began exploring applications for drugs a few months before the pandemic.
“We believe that GreenLight’s breakthrough platform can create advanced therapies, vaccines, and crop-protection products that address — quickly, directly, and specifically — some of the most significant problems facing the world today,” said Andrey Zarur, cofounder and chief executive of the company, in a press release.
GreenLight says its proprietary manufacturing platform allows it to make RNA more efficiently than other companies, so it is partnering with other firms while also developing its own RNA-based products. Those partners include academic research institutions and companies in the agricultural, pharmaceutical, consumer goods, and energy industries.
The company said has 14 products in its pipeline, including a COVID-19 vaccine candidate, a vaccine for influenza, and a gene therapy for sickle cell disease. The COVID-19 vaccine is expected to enter human clinical trials early next year.
On the agriculture side, one of GreenLight’s most advanced products is an RNA-based pesticide intended to protect honeybees from parasitic mites, a program it licensed from Bayer that is expected to launch in 2024.
Based on its pipeline, GreenLight estimates that its revenue could grow from $2 million this year to nearly $850 million in 2026. Money would come from commercializing its own products or by collecting royalties through partnerships.
GreenLight has raised $230 million to date and expects to net an additional $282 million after the merger closes, which is expected in the fourth quarter. The company has about 285 employees and its scientific advisory panel includes Robert Langer, the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and Moderna cofounder, as well as University of Pennsylvania mRNA researcher Drew Weissman.
The company has lab space in Medford and Woburn and will soon open a clinical manufacturing facility for drug products in the Boston area. Its manufacturing facility for agricultural RNA products is based in Rochester, N.Y.
GreenLight is also trying to pioneer what it calls a “blueprint to vaccinate the world,” a plan to scale manufacturing of vaccines around the world to help end the pandemic and more quickly to tackle the next one. The company is proposing a network of seven RNA vaccine factories across the globe, sponsored by public-private partnerships.
Moderna said on Tuesday that it would partner with the government of Canada to build a mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility there, with a similar goal.