As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Manoj Sahoo is the Chief Commercial Officer at Calyxt (NASDAQ: CLXT). He holds a MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the National Institute of Technology in India. Manoj has more than two decades of experience working in a variety of roles covering commercial, strategy, business development and M&A for global corporations in ag, food, energy and materials fields.Prior to joining Calyxt, Manoj was Assistant Vice President for Food Ingredients and Bio-industrial Enterprise at Cargill. At Cargill, he was responsible for revenues over $1 billion, leading the commercial enterprise team to triple its earnings from bio-based products and managing relationships with large institutional customers. His prior roles at Cargill included Business Development Director for Starches and Sweeteners North America, as well as serving as an investment team member with the Emerging Business Accelerator, a group structured along corporate venture capital groups to invest in white space opportunities for Cargill. He also worked in the Corporate Strategy & Development Group. Over the years, Manoj has also served on the boards of both Calysta Inc. and Rivertop Renewables as a Cargill representative. He was responsible for leading Cargill’s equity investments in the industrial biotechnology space, including co-investment in real assets with institutional financial investors to build a $600 million commercial-scale aquaculture nutrition plant. He also serves on Industry Advisory Board of Larta Institute, which assists the USDA, NIH and NSF with the commercialization assistance program.
Thank you so much for joining us Manoj! Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
Consider this: what if you could eat your favorite foods — French fries, pizza, pasta — without having to worry about health concerns like trans-fats, saturated fats or gluten? What if your child’s food allergy could be addressed through eliminating that exact allergen from plant ingredients altogether? What if we could add more fiber to certain foods to help people who, on average, only take in half of their daily fiber needs?
All of this might sound like science fiction, but it’s happening now. Calyxt is using a precision plant breeding tool called gene editing to develop healthier, more sustainable and environmentally friendly food ingredients for consumers. This work directly addresses some of the biggest food-related health issues today, including diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and food-related allergies (nutrition and obesity are among the 10 most important public health concerns in U.S.).
Unlike GMO technologies, which involve a random insertion of a transgene (i.e., gene from another species), gene editing enables subtle, yet precise, changes that can otherwise happen in nature over a vast number of years. Rather than creating a “new” crop, Calyxt’s proprietary process removes the randomness of plant breeding to streamline nature and develop a plant variety that could be achieved naturally — making our methods quicker, more efficient and cost-effective.
This year, Calyxt is set to commercialize the world’s first consumer-oriented gene-edited food product, its high-oleic soybean oil, which is designed to be used in common food products like salad dressings and healthy snack bars. Calyxt oil has a longer shelf life with zero grams of trans-fat per serving and reduced saturated fats. Best of all, Calyxt uses its proprietary technology, TALEN®, to develop its crops — without adding any foreign DNA to the products. Thus, the United States Department of Agriculture has confirmed that Calyxt’s high-oleic soybean variety is a non-regulated article (i.e., not regulated as a GMO).
How do you think this will change the world?
As there is an increased awareness of diet-related health issues today, consumers are emphasizing a healthier lifestyle and desire for nutritionally rich foods that are better tasting, less processed and more convenient. There is also increased demand for higher fiber, reduced gluten and reduced fat products. Food companies around the world are looking for specialty ingredients that can help to satisfy customers’ evolving needs and drive growth in market share / new value-added products.
Bottom line: imagine a world where our favorite foods have less sugar and more fiber, less chemicals and more vitamins / micronutrients, better fats and no allergens. Calyxt is leading the way to making this journey a reality in 2019.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
The need for products like the ones that Calyxt is developing is particularly relevant in society today, given that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently declared trans-fats as not safe and mandated that foods must no longer contain partially hydrogenated oils, which produce trans-fats. The World Health Organization also unveiled a plan to remove all trans-fats worldwide from the food chain by 2023. Food companies following the new FDA and WHO regulations will look to partner with a company like Calyxt to deliver healthier trans-fat-free products to consumers everywhere.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The 20th century saw the emergence of three profound ideas: the atom, the byte and the gene. Each of the ideas discovered went on to fundamentally transform society and the world. Even though they are unequal, each one represents a building block: the atom, of matter; the byte, of information; the gene, of biological information.
The first phase of my career was devoted to atoms: understanding how atoms could be built to meet the growing needs of our global human society. The second phase was devoted to genes that can develop crops, which later become sustainable ingredients for food, feed and industrial markets.
Over the last decade, genetic technologies have advanced so rapidly that scientists can decipher how genes interact in time and space — at a much faster rate and lower cost than predicted. One of the ways advances in genetics — specifically gene editing — can have an impact on the society is by enabling the ag and food supply chain to provide nutrition to people who will live on the planet in a sustainable way, changing the global food narrative.
This possibility gave way to the third phase of my career as Chief Commercial Officer at Calyxt. I am fascinated by the prospect of being at the forefront of genetic technology, which can revolutionize the world and the way in which we eat.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In one of my past careers, I was attending a large industry conference that attracted business and biotechnology leaders from various organizations across the world. My team was meeting with the Chief Technology Officer of one of the largest global personal care companies. As always, our team spoke at length about our companies’ capabilities, global reach and diverse portfolio of products.
The person keenly listened to the presentation and kept nodding. I could sense that there was something missing in the conversation. I asked the person, “As CTO of one of the world’s largest and trusted personal care brands, what keeps you awake at night?” Once the question was asked, the CTO went on to explain the issues around sustainability and traceability, which customers deeply care about; however, more work still needed to be done to address these concerns.
This was an eye-opening moment for me, as I had always known technology to be all about solving real world problems. If we can use the power of science and technology to make the society that we live in a better place than before, it will be widely accepted, understood and adopted. It is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
We are on the cusp of history with the introduction of gene-edited crops to our diets. For consumers, farmers or anyone interested in learning more about Calyxt and how we are using gene editing to develop healthier food ingredients, please follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn so that you can stay apprised of our updates and track the next generation of healthy food.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.