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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

Cibus Opens Gene Editing Facility for Trait Production

AGTECH: Oberlin Trait Machine Delivers Speed, Precision for Crop Plant Seeds

Cibus, Inc. has opened its production plant for, well, the production of plants.

The company announced July 12 the opening of its 32,000-square-foot Oberlin facility in San Diego. The new facility provides a high-tech solution that powers Cibus’ Trait Machine process, the first high-throughput trait production system for plants that integrates with seed companies’ breeding programs and allows them to bring new traits into their product pipelines.

Rory Riggs
Cibus, Inc.

“Now we have a full facility which is developing pharmaceutical quality standards for running that process from a cell to a plant and giving it back to people. The accuracy, the predictability of it and the cleanliness of it is really beyond reproach,” said Cibus CEO Rory Riggs.

Peter Beetham, president and chief operating officer of Cibus, described previous methods of enhancing desired traits in plants, known as the trait integration approach, as the “analog system of plant breeding,” which takes a long time, is labor intensive and lacks precision.

Peter Beetham
President & COO
Cibus, Inc.

“We took [breeding] from the analog to the digital environment,” he added.

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The Trait Machine process employed at the Oberlin facility integrates Cibus’ Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS) cell biology platforms with gene editing technologies that enable end-to-end crop specific precision breeding. Oberlin is currently operational for canola, winter oilseed rape and rice. The company is also developing cell biology platforms for soybean, wheat, and corn. The work on soybeans is the most advanced.

“Our dream is to once we have a trait, we can simultaneously put it in all five crops. That is what this plant will allow us to do,” Riggs said.

Commercial Business Underway

Earlier this year, Cibus’ commercial operation officially began with its first shipments to customers of elite germplasms with Cibus traits.

Andrew Walker
VP, Production
Cibus, Inc.

“The opening and commissioning of Oberlin, provides Cibus the needed production capacity to support the commercial launch of our developed traits in canola, winter oilseed rape, and rice,” said Andrew Walker, Cibus’ vice president production. “We are already initiating gene editing production runs directly in the elite germplasm of eleven different seed companies who have provided Cibus the materials to edit our traits directly into their elite lines.”

That production is now mostly automated in the Oberlin facility.

“This is a plant where the robots do all the work, indexing to make sure changes are happening,” Riggs said. “You can’t do that with field breeding.”

For Cibus customers, the new facility means a “fundamental change” to the speed and scale of current practices in gene editing traits, Riggs added.

The speed and scale that the new facility brings to traits has also expanded the company’s customer base.

“Seed companies in the past, a lot of agtechs, were competitors – now they’re our customers. A lot of the world is jumping to gene editing because they recognize GMOs are now a past technology, like Windows 95, and here you have something that is precise and fits in with breeding programs and can actually address the challenges and constraints we have in agriculture,” Beetham said, adding that solving issues in farming such as disease resistance and fertilizer use are now “approachable” with the technologies developed at Cibus.

That ability to approach new challenges is enhanced by the Oberlin facility, Riggs said, because the scale of research Cibus can conduct on traits is enhanced alongside the scale of production, allowing for more rapid testing and prototyping of new trait concepts.

Riggs expects the speed at which Cibus’ facility produces traits – especially as new crops like soybean come online – will dramatically increase the number of companies adopting its platform for its own seeds.

“We already know we’re going to have to end up building another facility, larger than this one, to be able to meet industry needs,” he said.

First Earnings Report

In addition to opening the Oberlin facility and shipping its first traits to customers, this year Cibus also became a publicly traded company. On June 1, Cibus closed a merger with Calyxt, Inc. that put the combined companies on the NASDAQ under the ticker “CBUS.”

Following the merger and an associated reverse split of Calyxt shares, CBUS began trading at around $30 a share. Since then, stock in CBUS has trended downward to as low as $10 a share. Beginning in early July the stock steadily climbed back up to above $23 a share on July 17 before going down to around $17 on July 24.

The company announced that it will report its first quarterly earnings as CBUS on Aug. 3.

Cibus, Inc.

Founded:  2001
CEO: Rory Riggs
Headquarters: San Diego
Business: Agricultural technology company that develops and licenses plant traits to seed companies for royalties
FUNDING: $118.5 million in Series F preferred units, June 2023
Employees: 200
Website:   www.cibus.com
Notable: Cibus’ pipeline has six different traits that will be implemented in five different crop types.


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