The Swedish synthetic biology company EnginZyme has raised a Series A funding round to the tune of €6.4M to develop its cell-free synbio technology for the sustainable production of plastic, rubber, and other synthetic materials.
The latest investment, which was led by French venture fund Sofinnova Partners, brings EnginZyme’s total funding to more than €10M to date. The money will be used to take EnginZyme’s cell-free synthetic biology technology to the pilot stage.
Synthetic biology, or synbio, uses genetically-engineered enzymes rather than petroleum chemistry to produce biological molecules, chemicals, textiles, and other materials. By combining chemical DNA synthesis with genomic tools and engineering, synbio makes it possible to rewrite the genomes of bacteria and other cells to produce materials such as plastics in a sustainable way.
Although the synbio research field has taken off in Europe in recent years, the region is still lagging behind the US when it comes to translating synbio research into investment and commercial ventures. One of the barriers to commercialization in Europe is that microbial fermentation — a common production method in industrial biotechnology — does not provide the cost efficiencies that are required to compete with existing chemistries at large scales.
To address this problem, EnginZyme’s technology dispenses with whole cells. Instead, it takes the relevant enzymes and immobilizes them to its specially engineered material EziG so that metabolic pathways can continue outside of the cell.
EnginZyme’s technique not only eliminates the cost of keeping fermented cells alive and healthy, but it also mitigates efficiency problems that may arise when living cells divert energy to essential processes rather than producing the desired product. Cell-free synbio also circumvents the complexity and unpredictability associated with scaling up living cultures to commercially viable levels.
“There is no-one offering a full platform solution for cell-free synbio,” EnginZyme’s CCO, Beatrix Ellis, told me. “There are other companies utilizing enzymes to produce chemicals, but without the core capability of making these enzymes into heterogeneous catalysts, it is difficult to achieve the economy of scale required to compete with the existing chemical industry.”
According to Ellis, EnginZyme’s first commercial chemicals are expected to hit the market on a rolling basis over the next two to four years. To begin with, the company will likely market products for use in the cosmetics and agrochemical industries, but the ultimate goal is to produce commodity chemicals, such as bioplastics.
EnginZyme was founded in 2014 as a spin-out of the Arrhenius Laboratory at Stockholm University. Since then, it has used its technology to provide R&D services to leading companies across the pharma, food, and chemical industries. Its core enabling material EziG is already commercialized and used in a number of reactors.
EnginZyme is sharing the synthetic biology space with some big players, including the Danish industrial biotech company Novozymes and the French biotech Carbios. These two companies teamed up last year to develop biodegradable single-use plastics, and Carbios also recently presented data on enzymes that could make it possible to recycle one type of plastic indefinitely.
EnginZyme believes that synthetic biology will lead to many new, sustainable materials in the future that are superior to the fossil-based chemicals that have improved our life quality for many years, but which are no longer sustainable.
“Over the next 30 years, the chemical industry needs to quadruple its production whilst also reducing the emissions, and this will be achieved with synthetic biology,” commented Ellis, who acknowledged that “phasing out of fossil industries is a long-term development, but any new chemicals will predominantly be produced using synthetic biology.”
Karen O’Hanlon Cohrt is a Science Writer and Editor with a PhD in biotechnology from Maynooth University, Ireland. She can be found on Twitter @KarenOHCohrt and you can check out her other work on her portfolio.
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