RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Some of Mexico’s signature crops could soon be protected from pests with a product developed by a North Carolina company. Regulatory authorities south of the border have approved Vestaron’s SPEAR-Lep, a biopesticide that’s already in use in the U.S.

Insecticides can work in a variety of ways, such as disrupting the nervous system or damaging the exoskeleton of an insect. While those approaches can be effective, they also pose a risk to unintended targets. Research Triangle Park-based Vestaron develops biopesticides that are lethal to pests but safe for farm workers, pets, beneficial insects, and the environment.

Vestaron develops its products from peptides, which are chains of amino acids. The company identifies naturally occurring peptides that have insecticidal properties. According to Vestaron, these neuromuscular-targeting peptides overcome resistance problems that can develop from currently available pesticides.

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SPEAR-Lep was developed to control lepidopteran pests, which includes caterpillars that munch on vegetable crops. The product can be used on both indoor and outdoor crops. SPEAR-Lep’s initial use in Mexico will focus on crucifers, tomatoes, and peppers.

Ben Cicora, Vestaron’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, said that the company will bring SPEAR-Lep to market in Mexico through the company’s territory managers and through regional distribution channel partners.

SPEAR-Lep is the second product developed by Vestaron, which spun out of Western Michigan University. The company’s first product, SPEAR-T, was developed to address greenhouse insects and pests. The Environmental Protection Agency approved that biopesticide in 2018. SPEAR-Lep was approved for use in the U.S. in 2019, the same year that Vestaron relocated to RTP from Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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Vestaron’s research is continuing to churn out more crop-protective products. In April, the company submitted its Basin biopesticide family for review by the EPA.

Vestaron has earned global recognition for its work, including the inaugural 2015 Bernard Blum Award for novel biocontrol solutions, the prestigious Green Chemistry Challenge Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute in 2020 and Best New Biologic Product in the 2021 Crop Science Awards.

(C) N.C. Biotech Center