Engineered biology conglomerate Intrexon (NASDAQ:XON) has become a darling stock among biotech investors in the last year. A portfolio of products obtained in numerous acquisitions have either been launched or are nearing commercialization. While not contributing significantly to the top or bottom line today, investors are right to be excited about their potential to provide tremendous long-term growth. That's especially true considering that all of the company's product revenue -- which made up $41.9 million of $173 million in total revenue in 2015 -- has historically been derived from just one product portfolio.
There are many acquisitions to choose from, but three in particular promise to have an outsized impact on the company's shares in the next few years. Here's why genetically engineered mosquitoes, high-protein insect fish feed, and non-browning apples could cause Intrexon's stock to rise.
The deadliest non-human animal the in the world doesn't lurk in the oceans or beneath your feet on a forest trail; it flies freely in your backyard. Mosquitoes are responsible for more human death and suffering than any other animal because they're a vector for diseases such as yellow fever, dengue, and Zika virus, among others. We go to great lengths to control their populations, which usually comprises labor-intensive door-to-door efforts to dispel sitting water and spraying chemical insecticides. The problem is that insecticides can also affect other organisms including amphibians, fish, other insects, and even humans, and need to be applied constantly to effectively control mosquito populations. Intrexon has a better tool in mind.
The company's self-limiting mosquito platform, acquired from Oxitec in 2015, releases into the environment genetically modified mosquitoes that contain a lethal gene. They mate with wild mosquitoes and produce offspring that don't reach adulthood. The company's field trials have shown greater than 90% reductions in wild mosquito populations -- making it a dramatically effective tool for vector control. That has piqued the excitement of public health officials and investors.
While the platform could eventually be deployed globally, investors should initially track two regions: Brazil and the southeastern United States. Intrexon has run a pilot program (not to be confused with a one-and-done field trial) with the city of Piracicaba, Brazil, for several years now. The latest expansion will see up to 60,000 individuals covered by the self-limiting mosquito platform, up from 5,000 individuals in the previous phase. A newly commissioned mosquito factory in Piracicaba will easily cover the expansion and, eventually, the 1.4 million people in the city's metropolitan area. That's a sizable revenue stream at the contracted price of $8 to $10 per person.
Deployment in the United States will take a little more time. Intrexon has been working with officials and the public in the Florida Keys, and a non-binding referendum on Nov. 8 favored releasing the mosquitos in Monroe County, though residents of nearby Key Haven County opposed the measure. Nationwide, the mosquitoes are looking at a potential approval no earlier than mid-2017: The data still needs to be reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, stacked against claims in the application, and factored into a regulatory decision.
Fish feed commercialization
In February 2016, Intrexon announced the acquisition of Enviroflight and a new commercial partnership with Darling Ingredients. The acquisition gave the company control of a novel fish and animal feed platform powered by black soldier fly larvae, which are grown, harvested, and milled into high protein products. It was significant for several reasons.
First, protein is quickly becoming a major opportunity for food and feed investments. The winners will be those that can provide more sustainable sources more quickly to relieve pain points in specific industries. Fish and animal feed, which consume large amounts of high-protein feeds with no signs of slowing, are good places to start. Insects have the potential to provide high-protein feeds with smaller footprints compared to their animal meat counterparts (although some comparisons may not be apples-to-apples).
Second, the technology is ready for commercial scale launch. That saves investors from long, risky development timelines usually associated with R&D programs. While there were several regulatory hurdles remaining at the time of acquisition, there aren't any obvious reasons investors should think Enviroflight's products won't be registered and approved -- it's more a matter of paperwork.
Third, the simultaneous announcement of a joint venture with Darling Ingredients provides serious firepower for commercial launch. That will include obvious steps, such as building a large production facility, as well as not-so-obvious steps that can be easy to overlook, such as distributing and marketing an entirely new product. Darling Ingredients has a formidable network and industry-specific expertise that help to de-risk the opportunity.
Given the potential of Enviroflight's platform to find market success immediately after launch, and the fact that many investors aren't paying much attention to this portfolio, any positive news could lift Intrexon shares higher.
Arctic apples coming to a store near you
In February 2015, Intrexon acquired Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which has a deep pipeline of genetically engineered fruits including cherries, peaches, and -- the first to launch -- apples. The company's Arctic apples have been edited to produce less of an enzyme that causes bruised and cut fruit to turn brown in contact with air. While simple, the market opportunity could be huge. Food preparation could change for the better (more sliced apples in supermarkets, restaurants, and school cafeterias), entirely new foods could emerge (apple juice that is actually green), and farmers could cut back on food waste (apples bruised during transportation are usually discarded).
After receiving regulatory approvals in Canada and the United States, several varieties of Arctic apples are now being grown by orchards across North America. It will take several years for trees to mature and bear fruit, but non-browning apples will be hitting supermarket stores sooner than most people think. That's good news for Intrexon, which could generate between $75 million and $150 million in annual revenue by converting 20% of North American acreage. If the value provided to farmers is as high as anticipated, then significantly higher market share could be possible.
What does it mean for investors?
Each of the three technology and product platforms discussed above -- GM mosquitoes, insect fish feed, and Arctic apples -- could propel Intrexon higher in 2017 and establish growth for years into the future. Better yet, there are other exciting acquired products in Intrexon's pipeline not mentioned here that could further contribute to a rising stock price. The engineered biology conglomerate's future could be very bright.
Of course, each product launch and market being entered faces unique obstacles and risks, too. With balance in mind, I plan on discussing soon three reasons that Intrexon's stock could fall.
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