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London biotech FabricNano raises $12.5M, gets backing from actress Emma Watson

FabricNano

Cost-efficient and sustainable production of biochemicals and biofuels is a crucial goal for modern biotechnology. The current methods are based on microbial fermentation, which suffers from a mismatch of cellular and engineering objectives, scaling challenges, and much more. 

However, Cell-free biosystems for biomanufacturing are emerging as an alternative to fermentation. According to various experts, Cell-free systems provide simpler and faster engineering solutions with unprecedented freedom of design in an open environment than cell systems. 

What is a cell-free solution?

The cell-free solution seeks to remove the constraints caused by living organisms (bacteria) to develop simpler versions of biologically inspired systems engineered efficiently for practical uses.

Based out of London, FabricNano is a cell-free biomanufacturing company that’s building technology to enable manufacturers to synthesise any material from enzymes sustainably. 

Raised £9M funding

The UK company that designs artificial cells producing chemicals 100x faster has just raised $12.5 million (approx £9 million) funding in a Series A round. 

The investment round was led by European VC Atomico (the VC firm started by Skype founder Niklas Zennström), along with participation from existing investors Backed, Hoxton Ventures, and Entrepreneur First. 

Also, various notable international angels joined the round including, Biz Stone (Twitter co-founder), Harry Potter actress Emma Watson (UN Sustainability Ambassador), Arvind Gupta (Indiebio founder and Mayfield partner), Alexander Moscho (former CEO Bayer), Michael Stoppelman (former Yelp SVP Engineering), Elvie founder Tania Boler, and Vijay Pandurangan (former Twitter NY engineering site lead). 

As part of this round, Atomico Partner Siraj Khaliq will join FabricNano’s board. With this, the biotech has now raised a total investment of $16 million (approx £11.5 million). 

The latest funding will be used to advance the development of sustainably synthesised alternatives to petrochemical products and drugs, which currently account for 14% of global oil demand. 

Addressing the biomanufacture of commodity chemicals

Founded in 2018 through the Entrepreneur First Program by Grant Aarons and Ferdinando Randisi, FabricNano is on a mission to replace all fermented and petrochemical products in the world with biomanufactured alternatives.

In an exclusive interview with UKTN, Grant Aarons, FabricNano co-founder & CEO, says, “We are addressing the biomanufacture of commodity chemicals (less than $5/kg). Our approach is to shift away from the cell-based fermentation technology of the early 2000s cleantech revolution, and instead focus on using a new technology stack called “cell-free” to biomanufacture things like bioplastics, biofuels, and other common commodity chemicals.”

According to Aarons, cell-based fermentation has many challenges like <50% conversion of the input hydrocarbon, needing certain conditions to survive, susceptibility to infection, and work restrictions, and much more.  

At the same time, the cell-free system can convert 100% of input hydrocarbon to the final product, industrial by design, and has no problems if the input hydrocarbon is dirty and impure. Notably, cell-free systems are best deployed in flow reactors. 

Aarons adds, “Cell-based fermentation is good at more than $20 per kg chemicals == $100Bn market. Cell-free is the manufacturing method of the future for less than $5/kg chemicals == >$5Trn opportunity. Cell-free can also manufacture >$20/kg chemicals, but why compete with fermentation when the world needs a solution to an unmet problem in bio-based commodity chemical production.”

Reducing the cost of biomanufacturing

The UK company has created a DNA-based flow reactor to produce biochemicals by engineering enzymes to bind directly to DNA, providing deeper flexibility. 

As a result, the company has reduced the cost of biomanufacturing through various innovations that vastly improves the efficiency of the cell-free biomanufacturing process.

Talking about the offerings, Aarons says, “FabricNano is focused on changing the material world around us, and we are particularly interested in solving biomanufacturing of commodity chemicals that fermentation struggles to manufacture. In this sense, we are battling against the preconception that fermentation is a technology that can deliver bio-based commodity chemicals like plastics and fuels. The cleantech revolution of the early 2000s failed to deliver on these products, primarily because the fermentation technology stack was/is best suited to manufacture high-value products with a sales price of over $20/kg. We have seen many biotechnology companies shy away from biomanufacturing of commodity chemicals, but we are using a new technology stack and it’s called cell-free biomanufacturing.

He continues, “At FabricNano, we believe that cell-free biomanufacturing has an excellent opportunity to disrupt the manufacture of over >$5Trn worth of commodity chemicals that are currently produced from petroleum. These products are everything that’s not concrete, ceramic, glass, wood, or metal. The world has a serious problem with our dependency on petroleum-derived commodity chemicals. We need a better and more sustainable way to manufacture common commodity materials to ensure a better future for the planet.” 

Rivals

“Cell-free biomanufacturing is a blossoming technology sector, which has a number of new entrants that are all solving a number of interesting problems. Other attempts at cell-free biomanufacturing deploy glass or plastic insoluble beads to support the immobilization of enzymes. These competing cell-free technologies will struggle to immobilize a special set of molecules called “cofactors” because their support materials do not allow for spatial precision in the co-location of key biological ingredients (namely enzymes and cofactors). FabricNano is uniquely positioned to deliver on the biomanufacturing of over >90% of commodity chemicals that require the use of a cofactor (e.g. NADH, NADPH, ATP, FAD, etc). Our ability to treat a “cofactor as a catalyst” is a key differentiator when comparing us to other cell-free technology companies. We are also a drop-in system, so we can easily be deployed in existing packed bed flow reactor equipment that’s already in use around the world,” he informs.

Atomic
Image credits: Atomico

Partnership with Atomico

FabricNano’s partnership with Atomico will allow the company to accelerate the scaleup of its FabricFlow reactor technology. 

About the partnership with Atomico, Aarons shares, “At Atomico we believe profit and purpose are mutually reinforcing, and therefore we often look for founders solving global problems at scale. Few problems are bigger today than the current unsustainability of plastics and chemical production. By substituting petrochemicals for biochemicals, we believe that biomanufacturing can play an important role in this process and we believe FabricNano are at the forefront of driving this bioindustrial revolution. FabricNano has hugely impressed us with their breakthrough technology that reduces cell-free costs down to levels needed by the $4tn commodity chemical production market.”