Consumer goods material suppliers continue to turn to synthetic biology for advanced products and delivery systems. A few months ago at the Metabolic Design summit, Steve He, who is responsible for acquisition of sustainability technologies at Henkel, said the company is collaborating with Arizona State University to see whether CO2-fed algae could synthesize high-value, renewable oils, and surfactants.
Elsewhere, Evolva’s Pascal Longchamps described the company’s synthetic biology platform, and how it’s applied for partners like Roche (cancer drugs), BASF, and the U.S. Army (antimicrobials). The company creates yeast artificial chromosomes (eYACs) that combine genes from “trees, from coral, from the brain” – apparently not meant as casual examples – into one new organism. For example, Evolva has developed a pathway for producing Stevia (a sweetener found in certain plants) in yeast. The company was collaborating with Abunda*, which it acquired in April.
We also spoke with Marcus Wyss of DSM Nutritional Products, which aims to become the cosmetic industry’s leading supplier by building a product portfolio with designed metabolic processes. The company is a sponsor of the BioFAB consortium based at SynBERC, and it is also contemplating agricultural waste as a feedstock for bio-based chemicals and materials. Also, Wyss specifically said DSM’s recent acquisition of Martek will bring “significant improvement” to its algal biotechnology abilities.
These examples of how bio-based materials and chemicals suppliers are supporting brand owners only appear cutting-edge. In reality, brand owners are leading the suppliers. Procter and Gamble has been using genomics and proteomics technology since the 1990s, even publishing papers on the subject. In the last twelve months, it struck a supply deal with Amyris, invested in personal genomics company Navigenics *, and opened a collaboration with the Institute for Systems Biology to study skin conditions ranging from aging to cancer. Similarly, Unilever has been acting like a drug company* for several years*. It is now using controlled-release biopolymers to deliver encapsulated lipids,* and investing* in its partner Solazyme*.
We expect to see more companies use biotechnology to improve food and cosmetics by blazing new routes to known and new substances, applying delivery technologies to improve substance benefits, and using their products as delivery technologies in and of themselves. These strategies are part of the broader trend of convergence of food, cosmetics, chemicals, and medicine, driven aggressively by BASF* and DSM*. Clients should note that these technologies are maturing at an opportune moment for companies looking to enter pharmaceuticals, as the collapse of drug majors clears the way for new entrants from delivery,* consumer products, and even the electronics industries*.
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