Five industrial biotech companies making Japan more sustainable

August 23, 2022 - 6 minutes
Image/Anastasiia Slynko

Japan has big plans to lead the world’s push to become more sustainable. Here are five local sustainable tech companies that could help it meet this mission.

Japan is best known for its well-developed technology and manufacturing firms. The nation also hosts a thriving biotechnology sector, with players across sectors including healthcare and industrial biotechnology.

In a mission to make Japan more sustainable, the government has established a bioeconomy strategy to transform itself into the world’s most advanced bioeconomy society by 2030. The focus is on promoting sectors such as biomaterials, bioplastics, biomanufacturing and wood-based construction.

Here is our pick of five bioeconomy-focused biotech companies that could make sectors such as agriculture, food and biomanufacturing more sustainable in Japan.

Table of contents

      EditForce

      Founded: 2015

      Headquarters: Fukuoka

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      EditForce is developing a form of gene editing technology that is distinct from CRISPR-Cas9, the tool that won a Nobel Prize for two of its inventors. EditForce’s technology is based on pentatricopeptide repeat (PPR) proteins, which are able to bind to and edit DNA and RNA molecules. 

      EditForce is applying its tool in the pharmaceutical, agricultural and biomanufacturing industries. For example, the technology can be used to genetically engineer microbes and plants to manufacture vaccines, industrial chemicals, plastics and biofuels. The company also has its eye on crafting high-yield varieties of crops with the help of gene editing.

      To fund the development of this technology, this sustainable tech company raised a funding round of around $3 million in 2021, which was led by the Belgian investor Newton Biocapital.

      Green Earth Institute

      Founded: 2011

      Headquarters: Tokyo

      Green Earth Institute has the mission of making society more sustainable by producing carbon-neutral biofuels and green chemicals from biomass such as plants. Unlike many biofuel developers, the firm avoids using food and feed crops, and uses waste feedstock such as the leaves and stems of plants.

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      In traditional methods of microbial fermentation of plant sugars, time and energy are required for microbes to multiply inside a vat before they can maximize their production. With Green Earth Institute’s technology, the microbes are already grown in the vat when the plant sugars are added, so sugars aren’t lost while waiting for the microbes to grow.

      Some of the products available from Green Earth Institute’s technology include food additives, healthcare materials such as aspartic acid and bioplastics raw materials such as lactic acid.

      Green Earth Institute has raised around $9 million in venture investments since its founding, including a round announced last year. The company is also taking part in various Japanese sustainability projects developing a circular, waste-free economy, including the adoption of renewable energy and the production of disinfectant gel made from recycled paper.

      Integriculture

      Founded: 2015

      Headquarters: Tokyo

      Integriculture is one of Japan’s most well known companies operating in the cultured meat space, where meat is grown from animal cells in a lab rather than from traditional animal farming. The aim of cultured meat players is to produce animal protein with a fraction of the energy, water and land requirements of what is currently needed to produce meat.

      Integriculture has set up a standardized infrastructure that can be used to run cell cultures from any types and species for a variety of clients. It works by connecting various cell cultures together: some that are being grown, and others that supply that culture with nourishment. According to the firm, this technology will form the foundation for democratized cellular agriculture.

      In some circumstances, the firm says the cell cultures in its system can be carried out without the need for expensive growth factors to feed the cells — these serum growth factors are also traditionally sourced from the slaughter of pregnant cows, so the technology could reduce animal suffering. 

      In January 2022, Integriculture raised a $7 million Series A round to fund the development of its cell culture technology. In April, the company launched a cell culture system that doesn’t require calf blood serum, and can be used to grow chicken and duck liver-derived cells. The firm also declared the ambition to achieve the first commercial launch of cell-cultured foie gras this year.

      OriCiro Genomics

      Founded: 2018

      Headquarters: Tokyo

      OriCiro Genomics is developing ways to manufacture DNA molecules for use in gene and cell therapies in addition to applications in agriculture and other food sectors.

      Many companies that clone DNA molecules for use in cell and gene therapy rely on a type of bacterium called Escherichia coli. However, these methods are typically inefficient and time-consuming. Additionally, this limits the types of sequences that can be cloned due to being too complex or toxic to cells.

      OriCiro is working on a cloning technique that doesn’t need E. coli, and can be carried out outside of the cell. This overcomes many of the obstacles involved in current DNA manufacturing processes. According to the company, OriCiro is currently the only player producing genome-scale DNA in a cell-free process.

      OriCiro raised almost $13 million in a Series B2 round in June 2022, which was bankrolled by the medical equipment company Asahi Kasei Medical. OriCiro is using the funds to accelerate its growth and to explore synergies between its technology and Asahi Kasei Medical’s bioprocessing division.

      Spiber

      Founded: 2007

      Headquarters: Tsuruoka

      Spiber was set up in Japan to devise sustainable ways to produce next-generation biomaterials for use in the fashion and apparel industry. The central role of fashion and clothes in people’s lives means Spiber’s products can reach a wide range of consumers, and it can improve the environmental footprint of these industries, which is often under close scrutiny

      Spiber uses microbes to produce a type of clothing raw material called Brewed Protein fibers, which can be used in a wide array of clothes including sweaters, T-shirts and denim items.

      This sustainable tech company raised a huge $312 million funding round in late 2021. The cash was earmarked for fuelling Spiber’s global expansion in addition to preparations for an upcoming IPO. In June 2022, Spiber also landed a deal with the clothing firm Pangaia to produce limited-run sweatshirts made from Spiber’s Brewed Protein.

      Thanks to feedback from Azusa Shiohara, VC investor at the University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners. Disclosure: one of Spiber’s investors is Carlyle, which is also the largest shareholder in Inova, Labiotech’s parent company.  

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