Bayer Invests in Startup Targeting Food-Related Allergies

Bayer AG’s impact investment arm is backing a company working to combat food-related allergies.

Leaps By Bayer led a $40 million funding round for Ukko Inc., a biotechnology startup founded in 2017, that is targeting proteins linked to gluten and peanuts that cause dietary restrictions and allergies in an effort to improve consumers’ health through the foods they eat.

Investors including Continental Grain Co. and Time Ventures, the investment fund of billionaire Marc Benioff, joined the round, according to a company statement Wednesday. The funding will help Ukko, which as headquarters in Palo Alto, California, and Tel Aviv, begin clinical trials with the hope of using foods like bread baked from engineered wheat and other crops as medicinal therapies.

“If we can develop a flour that is safe and good for everybody, we have to assume that there is going to be a market and that consumers are going be willing to pay for that,” Juergen Eckhardt, head of Leaps by Bayer, said in a phone interview.

Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition triggered by consuming gluten from grain crops like wheat, barley and rye, affects about 1% of the U.S. population. Allergic reactions to peanuts, meanwhile, affect 1 million children in America and is the second most common allergy among adults.

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved its first treatment for children with peanut allergies. And consumers with gluten sensitivities have used social media to form so-called tribes around their dietary restrictions.

Rather than a prescribed drug or strict diet regimens, Ukko is seeking partnerships with farmers and grocery stores to grow ingredients that make bread and other grain-based foods more accessible.

Being able to pitch farmers with the opportunity to grow specialty versions of these crops that fetch a higher price is a big part of what makes the investment worth it, Anat Binur, chief executive and one of Ukko’s two co-founders, said in an interview.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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