Engineering mosquitoes and salmon didn’t capture investors’ imagination – now Intrexon is looking to join the marijuana frontier
Intrexon, the biotech company that has taken over Oxitec of GM mosquitoes fame, has failed to attract investors with its GM salmon and mosquitoes, so now it's getting into the production of cannabis compounds for medical use employing GM yeast.
Bloomberg's header for the article below – "Intrexon, once a fighter of Zika, pivots to join pot mania" – while mildly amusing, has a moral slant that is superfluous.
Intrexon/Oxitec's attempt to flog GM mosquitoes to governments as a way of combatting the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which was blamed for causing a spate of microcephaly in newborns, hardly qualified as a humanitarian crusade.
The evidence for Zika being the main or sole cause of the microcephaly outbreak was always dodgy, as GMWatch repeatedly pointed out during the height of the mosquito-centred hysteria.
And there is evidence that the GM mozzie approach to wiping out mosquito populations has failed.
Like all such GMO ventures, the GM mozzies programme was driven by money rather than humanitarian concerns.
Conversely, Intrexon's new interest, medical cannabis, can hardly be termed "pot mania". Cannabis contains compounds that are of use in some disease conditions and Intrexon will attempt to use GM yeast to produce them.
Let's hope Intrexon does the required tests to check the purity and safety of its product. In the 1980s people in the US got sick and died after ingesting a supplement, l-tryptophan, made from GM bacteria. The illness probably resulted from contaminants introduced into the product by the engineered bacteria. Now tests are available that can detect such problems. Intrexon must ensure that it uses them.
Intrexon, once a fighter of Zika, pivots to join pot mania
By Cristin Flanagan
Bloomberg, 24 September 2018
Engineering mosquitoes and salmon didn’t capture investors’ imagination for Intrexon Corp. So now it’s looking to join the marijuana frontier.
The biotech firm run by Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Randal Kirk surged as much as 38 percent intraday, the biggest jump in more than five years, after saying the company had engineered a yeast strain to extract “low-cost, robust and consistent” cannabinoids via a fermentation process for medical use.
Before today, shares had shed more than 68 percent of their value since Sept. 2015 as Intrexon’s forays into genetic engineering including tweaking salmon -- dubbed Frankenfish by detractors -- and mosquitoes to combat the spread of the Zika virus failed to curry favor with investors.
With short interest more than 47 percent of equity float, Intrexon is the most shorted name on the Bloomberg World Index and has been a frequent target of short sellers in the past. Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Derik de Bruin also grew more bearish on the billionaire-run company earlier this summer when he cut his rating to a sell, saying any payoff for Intrexon’s more advanced programs in mosquitoes, fish or genetically modified apples was not likely to be significant before 2020.
The company’s executive director of commercial operations said in a press release strains would be optimized for specific cannabinoids that may be commercialized “in the coming years.” A company spokeswoman did not respond to a call requesting comment.