It has been big two years for biotech investors. But if you ask Po Bronson, partner at SOSV’s IndieBio, this trend is likely to be a long one.
“Often the implication is that everything has to be exaggerated,” he tells TechCrunch. “But I think the most important thing is that some of the key theses are being proven successful in the markets,” he says.
These theses, which range from the future necessity of climate and agriculture solutions to the promise of programmable biology, are reflected in IndieBio San Francisco. New Group of companies. We spoke to Bronson about the big science ideas that unite these companies, and finally, what were the key elements that sealed the IndieBio deal.
Below you’ll find a quick summary of each company, and one “break” factor that sets them apart. (Note: This group represents the San Francisco-based IndieBio group. The New York-based group will debut on January 27.)
Solium – Solium wants to reinvent the way we develop sunscreen. The team is working on a protein engineering-based procedure to manufacture sunscreen from essential ingredients, such as plant proteins. This new approach, ideally, would help the market move away from sunscreens that have been shown to harm the environment, in particular. Coral reefs and other marine life.
interval: Bronson says he is impressed with the expansion potential of this business. Complex sunscreen particles can be made quickly and easily. The $18 billion sunscreen industry isn’t huge, but the ability to rapidly expand in this space has been a huge plus.
Peron Systems – Pyrone Systems uses scalable biology-based technologies to create a state-of-the-art biocide. Specifically, the kind that does not kill, but selectively stuns pests such as mosquitoes. The biocide itself is currently “fast tracked” by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the IndieBio website. The same process can also be used to produce up to seven other products, per IndieBio, which unlocks $40 billion in other markets.
interval: The right market founder. The founders of Pyrone are seasoned entrepreneurs, and their team includes people with deep expertise in the field of biopesticides.
Solid Oaks Motors – Solid Ox builds “range extender” chargers for commercial electric vehicles, which have less charging time and are more sensitive to fuel prices than private vehicles. Currently, these chargers can cut refueling time in half, and at a cheaper rate, according to the IndieBio website.
interval: The idea of low-cost energy and market suitability was important to Solid Ox. But it was CEO Jared Moore and his engineering background that influenced the team.
Bona Bio – Puna Bio specializes in cultivating microbial radicals – organisms that have been on Earth for billions of years. Specifically, this team was able to grow microbes found only in the La Puna desert (an area described as “Mars on Earth”), where they managed to preserve plant life. Bona uses these microbes to revitalize degraded soils and increase yields in fertile soil.
interval: Bronson describes these extremists as “software with the power to transform matter” – an idea he’s been excited about for a while. But what formally sealed the deal was the fact that Buna was preparing to tap into the farmland and land markets. Restoring the fertility potential of non-arable land can literally change the value of the land itself.
big organic – Growth factors are proteins that help stimulate tissue growth. It’s a big part of the cell-based meat market, but We are still learning about it. Grand Bio looks to help cells produce King growth factors more efficiently. The company sells growth factor-promoting supplements for the media in which cells live and grow.
interval: Grand Bio has provided a new look at a known issue. “I love the counterintuitive ability of everyone trying to bring down the cost of growth factors, and make them into all kinds of systems. And they’re just like, no, we’re going to make cells run longer on a few growth factors,” he said.
sea and honesty sea and honesty Founder Jennifer O’Brien toured the beaches of Ireland in search of the best seaweed she could find. I found it on an Irish beach and have now started developing it into a scalable food source. Sea & Believe already has partnerships with Wageningen University, Limerick University and Clextral.
interval: Bronson says O’Brien has a strong and compelling founder story. But it also has a plan to expand a seaweed-based business with a specific niche: a strain of seaweed known for its flavour. He says capturing this supply chain was a big deal. (Full disclosure, he hasn’t tried the seaweed yet himself, but he has plans for when an upcoming shipment arrives.)
Matajin – Matajin focused on engineering a single enzyme that has the potential to change how efficiently crops use vital resources, such as starch. Ultimately, the producer could change how plants use starch to increase crop yields by 90% in potatoes, 41% in canola, and 24% in sorghum, per IndieBio.
interval: Bronson notes that many investors overlook the potential in agricultural innovation. Instead, he looks at a sector similar to pharmaceuticals: “If you make a big, big crop, it’s like a blockbuster drug,” he says. Matagene’s technology is also applicable to many crops (so you’re not limited to just one), he says, and can be applied to food, industrial and carbon markets.
Fellowes Bio – Veloz Bio has developed a rapid protein production system (think of animal proteins grown on crops). The company can expand and grow new proteins in as little as six months, without the use of a bioreactor.
interval: These founders have expertise in critical aspects of protein production: supercritical fluid extraction and membrane purification. They have also run large scale business before in the Mexican food system. “I wanted industry professionals to approach it with a real point of view and ability to scale and extract,” Bronson says.
Prothogen – There are two main pathways that cells follow toward death. One of them is called ferroptosis, a process in which cellular defense mechanisms fail, and they are overwhelmed by rogue molecules. Prothegen aims to develop drugs that can control this cycle of death — applying it to some cells and restricting it to others.
interval: Bronson said Prothegen was able to demonstrate a high level of expertise in the field of ferroptosis. “The part that put us on top was spending time with Professor Scott Dixon [a discoverer of ferroptosis]The specific challenges associated with tackling this process have been robust, and Prothegen has demonstrated the ability to meet this high standard.
Wayfinder Biosciences – Wayfinder Bio uses RNA-based biosensors to control editing molecules (such as CRISPR). This allows for permanent changes to be made in response to an environment – for example, imagine turning certain genes “on” and “off” in response to changing conditions in the body. Wayfinder is a product of the Center for Synthetic Biology at the University of Washington.
interval: The Wayfinder was an example of “programmable” logic in biology. A key idea, says Bronson, is fine-tuning biological systems.
Silens – Cellens has developed a urine-based bladder cancer test that bypasses screening. The test also monitors cell surfaces to help determine the stage and severity of the cancer. Currently, the test can detect bladder cancer with 94% accuracy, and is in preclinical trials at Dartmouth, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the University of Washington.
interval: Cellens and ProtonIntel (see below) talk about an IndieBio take: “A lot of the money being spent is in the continuous, long-term monitoring of patients,” says Bronson. “And a lot of a pain in the ass for a patient is that they don’t just need a screening test, they need a real biomarker.” Cellens is designed around measuring a patient’s progress in enough detail to make clinical decisions, rather than just examining disease.
Proton Intel – ProtonIntel is developing a rapid and continuous potassium monitoring device. Potassium is a critical component that drives the heart’s electrical signals, and in people with kidney failure, potassium levels can get out of control. ProtonIntel is designed to measure potassium levels before problems, like heart attacks, arise.
interval: Bronson says ProtonIntel has faced a particularly difficult scientific problem: measuring potassium in the body. But past experience in this market has indicated that this service is really necessary, and could further disrupt the dialysis industry (which, after decades of stagnation, I already see the changes).
Unlocked Labs – Unlocked labs is a consumer probiotic company whose first products focus on reducing oxalic and uric acid—two products in the body responsible for kidney stones and gout, respectively. The company aims to improve the health of the microbiome, harnessing this system to reduce toxins in the body.
interval: Bronson says the first generation of microbiome products was all about balancing that microbial colony. He argues that the next generation is to provide “specific and targeted benefits”. He says Unlocked Labs fits this spot.
* An earlier version of this article miscalculated the amount of startups in this group. There are 13.