IndieBio EU 2016 is underway at University College Cork, with 13 biotech companies priming their research and development under the guidance of start-up and industry mentors.
IndieBio stems from the SOSV-powered SynBio accelerator, originally launched in 2014, seeking to prove that commercial biotechnology research would benefit from the pressurised crucible that is the start-up environment.
Now in its third year, the accelerator has forked into two, with IndieBio EU remaining in Cork and IndieBio SF growing the accelerator in San Francisco.
A total of 13 biotechs have been selected for the 2016 IndieBio EU cohort. Active since early May, they have been conducting research and development of products inspired by nature at IndieBio EU host institution, University College Cork, while receiving mentoring and support from the IndieBio programme, and learning from each other as they go.
These companies will have a full three months under the mentorship of IndieBio EU, helped along by seed funding. After this, the graduate companies will be thrust into the biotechnology industry, ready to find partners and investors.
Moirai Biodesign is a Spanish molecular diagnostics company working on the next generation of RNA-based therapies and diagnostics for cancer.
The company’s approach is based on its ‘plug-and-play’ biodevice technology. The biodevice is a structurally designed and synthetically engineered RNA molecule made up of a sensor and a trigger. When the biodevice penetrates any cell of a patient, the sensor detects if the cell expresses a targeted RNA cancer biomarker. If it does, the protein encoded in the trigger is translated. If not, the biodevice is naturally degraded without the encoded protein being translated.
Moirai Biodesign is currently working on a non-invasive test for in-vitro, in-situ diagnosis of acute myeloid leukaemia using patients’ blood, and is aiming to develop further tests for in-vitro and in-vivo diagnosis using the biodevice technology.
Check our new website at https://t.co/AzHPREbe6G Engineering next gen RNA-based tools for diagnostic and therapeutics!
— Moirai BioDesign (@moiraibiodesign) May 16, 2016
Spira is an American company working on making a high-protein shake based on spirulina, a type of blue-green algae that grows naturally in oceans and salty lakes in subtropical climates.
Renowned for its high nutritional value, spirulina is often referred to as a ‘superfood’ and is already widely available in powder and supplement form. However, what Spira hopes to do is “end world hunger” using spirulina.
— Elliot Roth (@ThatMrE) June 12, 2016
Founded by CEO Eliot Roth, Spira’s R&D effort is working on genetically modifying spirulina so that it will provide all basic nutrition, making it a homegrown meal replacement. According to the company, Spira’s growth rate sees it double every 23 hours, and it is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of providing people with all the nutrients they need.
French start-up Peer-to-Peer Probiotics is run by biology and bioengineering students in Paris, seeking out synthetic solutions to malnutrition. The company recently won the Kirchner Prize for their efforts to create shareable vitamin-rich probiotics.
Peer-to-Peer Probiotics does this by looking into the diets of people in malnourished societies and adding probiotics to what they already eat. This way there’s less disruption to an often time-honoured dietary tradition.
Peer-to-Peer Probiotics has studied how to measure vitamin and probiotic production in batter for Indian breakfast dish idli. The results showed enough of vitamins A, B2 and B12 could be produced overnight from just 10ml of saturated culture in the idli batter.
Based at IndieBio, Crónicas is a start-up that’s dealing with a topic that affects the entire globe, though poorer societies somewhat more.
Crónicas is a ‘passion project’ founded by Ecuadorian Juan Robalino, who hopes to design and develop a novel platform to revolutionise agricultural biotechnology. Developing crops that are more resistant to infection, Crónicas uses the example of bananas as a reason to resurrect previously devastated species of fruit.
THE BANANA APOCALYPSE – Crónicas aim to stop us losing the Banana, bringing back great lost flavours on the way pic.twitter.com/dyw2a9gPE9
— Cⓐthal Gⓐrvey (@onetruecathal) June 1, 2016
Ecuador is one of the world’s leading producers of bananas, representing around 6pc of the world’s total haul, and Crónicas’s aim is to stop us losing the banana, as well as reviving lost varieties of other much-loved fruits and vegetables.
Named after the Irish word for ‘sweet’, Milis Bio is an Irish company, founded by Michael Sheehan, Dr Paul Young and Freedanz Ferdinandz, which is developing protein-based food additives without the drawbacks of traditional or contemporary additives.
Based on its research, which showed that 53pc of consumers are actively seeking out high-protein foods, Milis Bio believes it can corner a market that has seen avoidance of other sugar substitutes for fear of potential unhealthy side effects.
— Steven O Connell (@thelovelysteve) May 27, 2016
With Sheehan’s background in neuroscience, Young’s mastery of biochemistry and Ferdinandz’s biochemical engineering skills, Milis Bio are working on developing protein flavourings that will provide sour, bitter and salty flavours.
Hailing from Bangalore in India, founders Nimesh Chandra and Sachin Chalapati have been working since 2013 to develop a low-cost DNA assembly method that would not only be highly automated, but also of a high quality.
Having both developed a love of tinkering with the very fabric of our being, the pair founded Helixworks Technology to achieve this assembly using a DNA printer loaded with universal cartridges to print gene-length sequences.
Helixworks Technology also previously developed a novel genomic data management system called Lumina that aimed to increase genetic sequencing storage capacity four-fold with three-times the compression speeds the current industry is offering.
Anú Dairy is an Irish biotech company producing probiotics for the dairy industry. Through their work, they aim to create dairy products rich in vitamin K2 – the vitamin that helps to clot blood – leading to improvements in cardiovascular health and reductions in levels of prostate cancer, and helping to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
In order to produce these K2-enriched dairy products, Anú Dairy works with farmers to improve soil health, creates probiotic cultures to assist in cattle gut health, and improves the nutritional quality of the milk.
— Kevin Kennedy (@AnudairyIRL) May 9, 2016
As all-natural beverages become more and more popular, the drinks industry is facing significant challenges, not least of which is increasing shelf-life in the absence of all the sugars and chemicals that keep other drinks fresh for longer.
Chinova Bioworks seeks to solve that particular problem, developing an antimicrobial cocktail that is natural and safe, and that will enhance shelf-life.
— Chinova Bioworks (@ChinovaB) May 6, 2016
Led by CEO Natasha Dhayagude, CSO Emauel Dinis, and COO David Brown, the Canadian company is currently focused on the drinks industry, but the intention is to move into food, cosmetics, medical and pharmaceutical applications as the product develops.
Australian start-up Uira BioenergEthic aims to reduce human impact and carbon emissions on the planet by creating sustainable, eco-friendly and animal-friendly alternatives to omega 3 and astaxanthin (an antioxidant) supplements and sources.
Global production of these nutritional sources currently has a large impact on wildlife, ecosystems and the environment, relying heavily on animal sources and fossil fuels. To change the way we source these nutrients, Uira BioenergEthic is working on creating a sustainable solution using micro-algae.
The start-up – founded by CEO Francesco Cornalba – utilises green biotech (solar panels and wind turbines) and cutting-edge technology to extract the nutritional oil and lipids from microalgae and aquatic plants.
While world leaders are being urged to act on the medicinal nightmare that is antibiotic resistance, Cork-based MicroSynbiotix hopes to eliminate their use entirely – at least, underwater.
Founded by Antonio Lamb, Simon Jegan Porphy and Sebastian Cocioba, MicroSynbiotix is involved in the development of novel oral vaccines for aquaculture (like agriculture, but for aquatic organisms) using transgenic microalgae. The hope is that these vaccines will help to eliminate the unnecessary and excessive use of antibiotics in farmed fish, and thus combat the devastating viral outbreaks that cause major stock losses in aquaculture globally.
About 5pc of global fish stocks are lost to infectious diseases annually, at a cost of over $10bn to the industry, and MicroSybiotix is developing a patented platform technology to produce these oral vaccines and make disease management in aquaculture much more sustainable.
— Microsynbiotix (@microsynbiotix) June 10, 2016
While MicroSynbiotix is fighting disease in aquaculture, Hexafly hopes to solve the looming feed crisis in this industry by creating sustainable food sources using synthetic biology to optimise natural sources of fishmeal.
Generally speaking, fish eat insects in nature, but the price of fishmeal has tripled in the last 10 years. Alvan Hunt, Paddy McGarvey, John Lynam and Derek Keogh founded Hexafly to provide a new raw material source for the fishmeal and plant nutrition industries. The team has experience in aquaculture and feed markets and wants to supply natural sources – such as the black soldier fly – to aquaculture in order to create more sustainable, robust and reliable feed systems.
To fulfil this goal, Hexafly will be conducting research mid-programme to optimise larvae growth using synthetic biology.
Rafael Lobo, Sofía Miranda, José Pablo Méndez and Marcelo Castro – the team behind Magenta Biolabs – all hail from Costa Rica. They initially got together at Startup Weekend Costa Rica in March 2015 to come up with a technology to control agricultural pests. However, they pivoted and, today, Magenta Biolabs produces hyaluronic acid synthesised from common waste streams.
You may have heard of this high-value molecule from its commercial applications in cosmetics, healthcare and pharma. What Magenta aims to do is develop a bacterial strain capable of producing hyaluronic acid, which could be used in creams and moisturisers, or as a therapeutic agent for diseases such as osteoarthritis and mouth ulcers.
— Magenta Biolabs (@MagentaBiolabs) May 17, 2016
Effectively, Magenta could grow to combine synthetic biology with agriculture and industrial organic waste to develop other highly-valuable molecules that would be suitable for use in the lucrative cosmetics and biomedical industries.
Founded by Dr Ravinder Sardana and Shrutee Sardana, Cell Reserves is a Canadian biopharmaceutical company developing a biomolecular shield to increase the longevity of therapeutic molecules in the body, thus significantly reducing the risks and costs associated with disease management.
The research behind Cell Reserves originated from Ravinder’s work as a molecular biologist and independent researcher in Canada. An experienced researcher in molecular biology, biotechnology and genomics, Ravinder has managed research teams, collaborations and groups, and authored 24 research publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Disclosure: SOSV is an investor in Silicon Republic
Number 13 image via Shutterstock