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Biotech Firm Invests $28.5m to Find Bananas Resistant to TR4

12.6.2020

Tropic Biosciences, based at the Norwich Research Park, has raised $28.5m of investment to push forward its work to save the world's banana plants from a devastating disease. Picture: Tropic Biosciences

Tropic Biosciences, based at the Norwich Research Park, uses cutting-edge plant breeding and gene editing technologies to improve commercial varieties of banana and coffee plants.

Since 2018 the company has been leading the international drive to create a new type of banana which is resistant to Panama Disease (also known as TR4), which experts describe as an “existential threat to the banana industry”.

Those efforts stepped up a gear last August after the destructive disease was found to have spread to Latin America, from where the majority of the world’s bananas are exported.

The investment, believed to be the largest-ever venture capital funding in the UK agri-tech sector, will help Tropic to continue expanding its 60-strong Norfolk workforce, and take their laboratory work into the field with trials in South America and south-east Asia.

Tropic Biosciences, based at the Norwich Research Park, has raised $28.5m of investment to push forward its work to save the world's banana plants from a devastating disease.

Tropic Biosciences, based at the Norwich Research Park, has raised $28.5m of investment to push forward its work to save the world's banana plants from a devastating disease.

Tropic Biosciences is probably the most mature and dedicated global effort to combat TR4  from a genetic perspective. The company has  60 people here now, and within a few years hopes  to commercialize a resistant variety which means the bananas grown in Latin America will have been developed in Norwich.”Said a representative of the UK based company.

Tropic’s  successful “Series B” round of equity funding attracted influential new backers including Temasek, a global investment company headquartered in Singapore.

The cash injection will also allow Tropic to broaden its focus and apply its gene editing techniques to a third crop – rice – in an effort to alleviate the impact of climate change on the production of this major global food staple.

Since its “Series A” funding round in early 2018, the company has grown from 17 to 60 staff. Mr Gershon, who is originally from Israel, said he now expects to see further significant employment growth for the firm’s Norwich team, which already includes 19 nationalities.

“The reason we came to Norwich to begin with is because the city has some of the best plant geneticists globally at institutes like the John Innes Centre, The Sainsbury Laboratory and the University of East Anglia so it gives us the ability to recruit very talented people,” he said.

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