CysBio is developing a fermentation technology to produce valuable chemicals that were previously too difficult or expensive to make.
Founded just at the beginning of this year, CysBio is now receiving its first funding. This seed investment comes from the Chinese chemical company Zhejiang NHU, which has also established a partnership to commercialize some of the unique compounds the Danish startup can make.
CysBio specializes in sulfation — a chemical modification that can alter the properties of a compound. “The sulfation of phenol compounds is something that happens in your liver,” CEO Henrik Meyer told me. “It’s a way of making unwanted products soluble so that you can get rid of them.”
Using genetically engineered bacteria, the company can produce sulfated compounds that are challenging to make using traditional methods such as chemical engineering or extracting the compounds from nature. Bacterial fermentation also provides a more sustainable alternative for chemical production. The technology originated at the Technical University of Denmark, which has a stake in CysBio.
One of the applications of the technology is in making amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. “We are producing a couple of the more expensive amino acids to make them more cost-effective,” said Meyer. “We expect to have them on the market in the next year.”
Another application CysBio is working on is the creation of new compounds and materials with brand new properties. One of them is a chemical called zosteric acid that is naturally produced by seagrass.
“Seagrass contains this natural antifouling agent that makes sure nothing can adhere or grow on it,” explained Meyer. “It’s a very interesting material but it is very expensive to extract it from seagrass or to produce it chemically. For 20 years people have made experiments and have been very excited by these antifouling effects, but the product hasn’t been available… No one figured out a smart way of producing it before.”
In the long term, Meyer believes this sulfation technology could open up the possibilities to make a wide range of possibilities. Those include improving the efficacy of drugs and producing new polymer materials by modifying the compounds that form them. “Polymers today don’t have very good electrical conductivity. With our technology it will be possible to create polymers that can be conductive, or that are more adhesive, and also polymers with different flexibility properties.“
Through its partnership with Zhejiang NHU, CysBio will focus on optimizing the bacterial strains to produce these chemicals. NHU will then take care of scaling up and selling some of these compounds. Together, they expect to bring their first products to the market in 2020.
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