Kevin Helash, who joined Biotalys as Chief Executive Officer in early October, reflects on his first weeks on the job, the state of the company today and his vision for the future.
During my younger years, I learned the importance of hard work and an unshakeable respect for agriculture as my family worked together to create a viable homestead in rural Manitoba, Canada. The love for the land runs deep within my family, including my wife, Michelle who also holds a BSc Degree in Agriculture from Cal Poly in California. I now get to watch with pride as my eldest children have already cemented their careers in agriculture and my youngest has worked as a summer student with crop protection innovators.
From my childhood growing up on my family farm to my latest endeavor at Biotalys, my commitment and passion for building a strong, sustainable agricultural industry has been a constant throughout my personal journey and my career. After over two decades of leading global sales, marketing and supply chain strategy for Agrium (now Nutrien) and then 7 years leading the largest agriculture retail organization in Canada, I had the honor to serve as CEO of EnviroKure, Marrone Bio Innovations and Agrinos AS. It has been both rewarding and eye-opening to work with such incredible teams to commercialize and scale innovations that will help provide safe, healthy, affordable food to a growing global population, most recently with a focus on biological soil and plant health solutions.
We all know the world is changing rapidly, and there is a growing and pressing need to provide safe and sustainable alternatives to protect our food, and ensure productivity and quality while preserving our environment, our soil and our health. Growers are looking to address consumer demand for food that is produced with fewer chemicals while not increasing their costs. However, this is no small task.
In my discussions with members of the Biotalys team, what stood out most was the company’s culture of collaboration and the understanding that what we are working on has the potential to provide a better future for our society and planet at large. In the last few weeks, I’ve had a chance to have in-depth conversations with people from all regions and departments within the company, and I feel privileged to have been chosen to lead this remarkable team into its next phase of growth.
By far the most impressive aspect of Biotalys is our AGROBODY Foundry™ technology platform and the step change we are contemplating by a more targeted approach in the discovery of new biocontrols. Despite the continued cost pressures on agriculture inputs and uncertainty across the market, the protein-based biocontrol solutions that are being built by Biotalys, have all the potential of setting a new bar for safe, effective protection tools, and I am fully committed to accelerating the focus and development of our product candidates, including the regulatory approvals and global commercialization, to give growers what they need.
The field results we’ve seen already in global trials of our first product candidate, Evoca™, are compelling in terms of maintaining, or improving, yields by safely protecting crops from potentially devastating fungal diseases such as grey mold (Botrytis bunch rot) and powdery mildew. Evoca even obtained a new fungicide resistance class!
Of course, the elephant in the room is the ongoing regulatory review of Evoca, and the time it is taking is concerning to some. The reality is that this process is extensive and based upon my experience, the timelines currently applied by the regulatory authorities for Evoca are in line with expectations for new products in our industry, and especially for new modes of action. And while the EPA in the U.S. no longer communicates timelines for regulatory decisions, we continue to respond in a timely and appropriate manner to any and all requests for more information supporting the current reviews in process in the U.S. and E.U. We fully support that any new product must undergo a comprehensive review prior to allowing it to be used in our food supply chain, despite our desire to bring our product to growers as fast as possible.
The expected registration of the first generation of Evoca will be a key milestone for the company. This is not only because it will be our first approved product from our platform, but also because it is expected to be the first critical step in obtaining follow-on registration for next-generation Evoca (Evoca NG), which will be our first commercial, revenue-generating product. We believe that once we’ve overcome these hurdles, Evoca NG (and our future products) have the potential to make an enormous impact and be well worth the wait.
As we fully devote our energy to support our goal of moving Evoca forward and progressing towards regulatory approval, we must carefully manage our costs and resources as a small, pre-commercial company. We will focus on activities that bring significant value to the company, its employees, shareholders, customers and growers, and ultimately our planet.
Our business partners share our excitement about what we are doing here at Biotalys. I also had the chance to speak with some of our investors and analysts, who have shared their insights into how the market views the company. The perspectives from everyone have been invaluable to me, and I look forward to our continued collaboration.
I am incredibly excited about what the future holds for Biotalys and all of the milestones to come. We have a lot of work ahead of us. Thankfully we have a great team in place to do the job well and strong partners supporting us. I hope you share my excitement and very much look forward to the opportunity to meet some of you in person either in Ghent where our HQ and research labs are, in North Carolina or at an upcoming industry event.
Until then, I hope our supporters and team in the U.S. enjoy their Thanksgiving holiday. May you all be surrounded by family and friends who are thankful for the incredible amount of work that goes into putting such a delicious holiday harvest on your tables!
Kevin Helash – 23 November 2023