Evogene Ltd., a leading plant genomics company specializing in enhancing crop productivity for the food, feed and biofuel industries, announced a key milestone in its discovery program for novel chemical herbicides with the launch of PoinTar, a computationally based target discovery platform for novel herbicides. Targets are key molecules, responsible for essential biological processes in weeds, which have the potential to be chemically inhibited to cause weed death.

Crop losses from weeds are estimated to reach more than $100 billion annually and chemical herbicides, with a worldwide market currently estimated at $20 billion, are the dominant approach for weed control. The need for new herbicide solutions arises from the substantial and growing resistance of weeds and other invasive plants to existing chemical solutions since no new herbicide mode of action has been introduced in over 20 years.

Evogene’s herbicide discovery program, initiated in 2012 within the Company’s ag-chemical operations, is addressing this unmet need for new herbicide modes of action through the development of computationally-based platforms integrating predictive biology and chemistry.

The launch of the PoinTar platform is the first key milestone in the program. An important feature of the new platform, in addition to the predictive discovery of potential targets, is the ability to prioritize the resulting predictions for proteins on the basis of structural information such as ‘drugability’, that is the ability of the predicted target to interact with a chemical molecule. In addition, PoinTar is able to identify non-coding RNAs as potential targets, adding a substantial new class of overlooked molecules to the discovery process. The combination of these two computationally based features is anticipated to provide a unique and effective target discovery capability.

The remaining key development milestone for the establishment of Evogene's herbicide discovery capability is the completion of a second, complementary platform for the discovery of chemical molecules that are designed to inhibit the activity of targets discovered using the PoinTar platform. These chemical molecules will then serve as the active ingredients for the final herbicide product.

“Our on-going herbicide discovery program rests on our two core infrastructure assets – our extensive and proprietary computational capabilities for data integration and analysis, and our deep predictive understanding of how plants work at the genomic level,” said Ofer Haviv, Evogene’s President and CEO. “Through the use of these underlying capabilities, this program combines relevant aspects of biology and chemistry into one integrated and complete solution designed to provide a powerful new discovery approach to one of agriculture’s most critical challenges and largest commercial opportunities.”