GreenLight valued at $1.2B after riding from farm to Wall Street via SPAC

Linguistically speaking, vaccine derives from the word for cow, or vacca in Latin. That quick etymology lesson might help explain the $1.2 billion enterprise value given to GreenLight Biosciences as part of a reverse merger that will bring the agriculture and biotech company to the public markets.

The upstart began its days in agriculture—think cows—and has since moved to human health to focus on, you guessed it, vaccines. Now, the ag and vax upstart is riding its way from the farm to the streets of New York City via a merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Environmental Impact Acquisition, which will give GreenLight $282 million in proceeds. 

The blank-check company's name is quite apt given Monday's United Nations climate report that caused a stir in the science world, warning of a dire century ahead for the planet.

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Little-known GreenLight, founded in 2008, is working on a messenger RNA manufacturing platform that it hopes will provide more scale and lower prices by being cell-free. The company previously raised $230 million to fund this mission, including a $102 million series D last June. 

GreenLight's mRNA platform has developed candidates for COVID-19, influenza and earlier-stage programs in sickle cell disease. Remember, the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines led a revolution in mRNA.

The company beefed up its vaccine work with the hire of former GlaxoSmithKline vax leader Amin Khan as chief scientific officer of human health in April. Khan had been a member of GSK's vaccines business R&D leadership. Then, in July, GreenLight hired Kimberly Warren as SVP of business development for the human health unit, joining from Epizyme, where she was VP of business development. 

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GreenLight's deal comes a week after another SPAC deal focused on lower priced drugs pushed EQRx to the Nasdaq for $1.8 billion. 

On the crop management and plant protection side, GreenLight is working on RNA-based pesticides to protect honeybees from parasitic mites. The company also wants to protect food products from insect pests that destroy staple foods. GreenLight's first biopesticide is slated to launch in 2022, the company said at the time of its series D.