New York City isn't for everyone. It has a reputation for being crowded, expensive, and frenetic. But it is still, as one writer states, the City of Ambition. Indeed, NYC is starting to vie with the traditional biotech hubsBoston and San Francisco, as demonstrated by the increasing number of synbio startups that have made the Big Apple their home.
In comparison to those in Kendall Square or South San Francisco, the real estate in NYC is quite impressive. The energy in NYC is crucial to getting a startup off the ground, and the crowds draw with large amounts of potential.
On top of that, NYC is the place where high-end goods are made. With synbio poised to make inroads in industries such as fabrics and food, what better place to be than being sandwiched between the finest fashion houses and the finest restaurants in the world? New Yorkers will demonstrate that their trending methods apply not only to cuisine, culture, and capital, but also to synbio.
Graduate courses are usually for life-changing experiences. However, a course called Revolutionary Ventures at the MIT Media Lab aimed at Shara Ticku. She discovered a new purpose not only from lectures she attended, but from her classmates, especially Harry McNamara, PhD, and David Heller. The three expressed a mutual concern about the environment and, also, the destruction of primary forest.
Palm oil is the most popular vegetable oil in the world. It was found in half of supermarket shelves in 2016, and it was a $60 billion industry, according to Ticku. Every individual person uses palm oil in some way, shape, or form every day, even if they try to avoid it. It's just so widespread.
Palm oil is also the most destructive vegetable oil from a greenhouse gas consumption and a social perspective.
250 of them, divided by consumer manufacturers, said they would discontinue using conflict palm oil, which is linked to deforestation. Secondly, the companies fought to fulfill their promises. Why? Because there is no viable alternative to palm oil.
Ticku, Heller, and McNamara had the intention to do something about the palm oil problem. They realized that synbio might succeed when agriculture failed. C16 Biosciences, from the start, was committed to using microbes to develop a sustainable alternative to palm oil.
The three founders explored adapted laboratory development and strain engineering as well as bioprocess engineering around fermentation conditions to improve strains performance and profile. Both quantitative performance metrics (such as titer, rate, and yield) and qualitative performance metrics (such as triglyceride profile).
Ticku discloses the yeast strain publicly. It is a problem in the research world. It was developed in a research paper that a decade ago in Nature and it is of interest to several academic laboratories. However, it had not been the basis of any commercial work until it was cultivated by C16 Biosciences.
The first focus at C16 Biosciences is on palm oil, but the company has a broad visionthe whole oil and fats spectrum. No one, according to Ticku, is moving quickly enough to deal with the climate crisis. First goods to incorporate the company's oils will be personal care products. Next, the oils will be in home care and food products.
The concept of the company was based in Boston because it was founded in 1987 as the company expanded to eight individuals. A move to NYC was completed in the summer of 2019. Ticku canceled the I-95 route and all eight people were relocated.
Ticku says she may continue to talk about the subject for the duration of her career. Although she often hears about the benefits of starting a business in NYC, she has found that real estate is relatively available. (C16 had little difficulty establishing a 20,000-square-foot facility in Boston, whereas arranging laboratory space in Boston involved a two-year wait.) Other benefits, she continues, include an abundance of employees and city and state incentives to assist the life sciences. Finally, she enjoys the view. The
Laura Katz started thinking about the infant formula market long before it was experiencing supply difficulties. During her training, Katz had an aha moment six years ago while riding the N train to Brooklyn. She learned that many parents believed this unregulated market was the only way for their children to get nutrition.
Katz began by talking with the founders and CEOs of biotech firms and their parents about how to establish a company that would recreate breast milk. In 2019, Helainanamed after her great-grandmother.
Helaina is not another infant formula company. It was first started to bridge the gap between breast milk and infant formula. Indeed, Katz claims that Helaina is capable of getting a fresh kind of product on the market because the company uses fermentation to recreate breast milk glycoproteins.
These breast milk glycoproteins have never been used, commercialized, and added to foods before. One of the reasons is that different organisms glycosylate proteins are different. So, if Helaina chose yeast to produce new foods ingredients, the proteins would be glycosylated in a manner native to yeast. To avoid this danger, Helaina has created yeast to mimic the human glycome.
Helaina is developing yeast that can be used as a base to produce human milk glycoproteins. At the moment, every glycoprotein will be considered as a food component and requires its own regulatory process. Besides expanding its production, the Helaina team is also developing an infant formula base to which the company's first protein (and subsequent proteins) may be added.
When will Helainas' product be available on shelves? Katz says that the answer to that question isn't clear. Over the past few months, so much has changed. She admits that the company is in a tough phase due to a requirement that all formula manufacturing facilities in the United States must be making product. However, the company hopes to begin trials next year.
Will parents adopt a new synbio-generated infant formula? It's the biggest obstacle, according to Katz. When she talks to parents, they're concerned about the possibility to provide their little one with more benefits.
Helaina was born in a biolabs incubator house in New York City. Recently, the company outgrew that space and moved into the Cure building on Park Avenue. More than 1.5 billion people have invested in the area as part of the LifeSci NYC initiative.
Katz claims that she can build her business in New York City. She highlights the unique energy that she has in her job to build her team. Helaina, which intends to be a consumer-facing company, will benefit from being a center for the best brands. We could not be anywhere else but here, she says. Once youe here, its difficult to leave.
Katzs days have been filled with memories of a synbio-generated infant formula. By now, they may be filling her nights, too. (At the time this article was written, she was expecting her first child in July.) Although that will not be the case, she is optimistic that it will be suitable for her second.
The first observations of bacteria's formation can be found in laboratory notebooks from Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch, the Fathers of Bacteriology. The process is a well-understood foundation of bacterial physiology. Currently, a Brooklyn-based synbio company hopes to leverage the process, combine it with new technology, and solve the problem of chasing produce through supply chains.
Ellen Jorgensen, PhD, is a graduate of Aanika Biosciences, a graduate of the University of New York. She founded Genspace and Biotech Without Borders, a citizen science initiative that aims to bridge the gap between science and the public through hands-on STEM training. After a decade in that field, she was looking to reinser into a for-profit business.
Vishaal Bhuyan, a former hedge fund manager in Connecticut, was taking a class at Genspace. He was imagining addressing a supply chain issue. How could goodsparticularly those sourced overseas be tracked closely enough to establish beyond any doubt their origins?
Bhuyan wanted to develop a tracking technique for food services. He had thought of edible tags made from a harmless microbe (Bacillus subtilis). The tags would have a nonfunctional, noncoding snippet of DNA that would act like a barcode or watermark.
Jorgensen's sheer ease inspired by the idea. It was already in widespread use industrially, in probiotic formulations, and known to be harmless. And writing DNA is now incredibly easy.
When a Bacillus cell is placed under difficult conditions, the cell sees it will not survive. A team at Aanika has created different strains that are genetically identical, except for a very small piece of DNAless than 200 base pairs that is embedded in a nonfunctional genomic region through homologous recombination. The spores are then mixed into food at the source, and the shipment-specific barcode is then read out at the other end.
Tracking has faced challenges. Packaging may be damaged or information may be lost in an aggregation facility. Aanikas system may eliminate these limitations.
Aanika dismisses scepticism about establishing a biotech company in NYC and claims that real estate is a barrier. The company will soon open a 27,000-square-foot facility, which Jorgensen hopes to be a resource or incubator space for other companies that are starting up in the city. Right now, Jorgensen says, there are no small-scale industrial fermentation facilities in NYC where a company may produce only a small batch of a fermented product.
Jorgensen exults, the New York City is coming for you in a very interesting way. Many of the companies that are doing biologically related work in NYC are focusing on other industries than biomedicine. These not your mothers biotech corporations. They are playing by different ruleswhich is fitting, since they are making their way into commercial realms that have yet to integrate biotech and synbio solutions but soon will.