Divergence Receives $1.2 Million in Grants, Including NSF Grant to Fund Continuing Nematode Research in Corn

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Company's work could help farmers protect against billions in pest losses annually

Control of Lesion Nematodes by RNA Interference

In the past year, St. Louis biotech firm Divergence, Inc. , has received more than $1.2 million in research grants, including a $500,000 grant just awarded from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to further the company's work on biotech traits for lesion nematode control in crops such as corn. The Phase II grant, "Control of Lesion Nematodes by RNA Interference," is part of NSF's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

Nematodes are the largest unsolved pest problem in agriculture, limiting the yield of crops worldwide and causing billions of dollars in crop damage annually. Lesion nematodes are prevalent in the Corn Belt and appear to be increasing with changing agronomic practices. Divergence, a world leader in developing products for control of parasites in agriculture and medicine, has discovered nematicidal chemistry working through a novel mode of action and is also working on biotechnology-derived crops with built-in pest resistance.

The company's Phase I research demonstrated that RNA interference (RNAi) can substantially reduce lesion nematode reproduction resulting in a larger, healthier root system for a plant. The Phase II grant will allow Divergence to expand greenhouse testing in crops including corn. RNAi is a fundamental mechanism of gene regulation triggered by double-stranded RNA. Divergence was an early industrial adopter of RNAi, working with the research platform since the company's inception in 1999. Dr. Craig Mello, a member of Divergence's Scientific Advisory Board since 2000, was the co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of RNAi.

"Our project's findings could lead to corn yield increases in the field as well as improvement in the ability of corn to tolerate drought conditions," said Dr. James McCarter, Divergence founder, president and chief scientific officer. "These pests are unseen to the naked eye and cause far more damage than is generally recognized. We're very pleased to have this funding support which will allow us to accelerate the project."

Other recent SBIR grants to Divergence include support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  •     Two $100,000 NIH Phase I Grants for anthelmintic and antifungal drug discovery and a $10,000 NIH Manufacturing Assistance Program Grant
  •     One USDA $350,000 Phase II Grant and two USDA $80,000 Phase I Grants for control of root knot nematodes and fungal infections in plants.

Additionally, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) has provided research collaboration funding to the company for each of the past seven years to help support the association's research efforts toward a biotechnology solution to nematodes in corn.

"NCGA recognizes the potential value this research could provide our farmers in terms of new, safe approaches to control nematodes that plague corn and other crops," said Dr. Richard Glass, NCGA vice president of research and business development. "We are always seeking solutions that allow corn growers to produce a more abundant crop more profitably."

The company, which recently announced that it secured $11.8 million in Series C equity financing, is also working on solutions for parasite control in animals and humans.

About Divergence:
Divergence, Inc., a world leader in the application of genomics and informatics to agriculture and infectious disease, discovers and develops products for the safe and effective control of parasites. The company's initial focus is on parasitic nematodes, devastating unseen pests that cause billions of dollars in crop loss annually and widespread disease in humans and animals. For more information visit Divergence's Web site at http://www.divergence.com.

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Micah Hirschfield

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