“We have been seeing incredible growth in collagen-driven products. You just have to look at sectors such as nutraceuticals, sports beverages and cereals. There is high double-digit growth occurring in these markets globally for collagen-powered brands.”
Today, most collagen for consumer products is sourced from the skin and bones of factory-farmed pigs and cows, without consideration for biocompatibility with human skin. Yet, US-based biodesign company Geltor is changing all of that. It has created an animal-free, non-GMO collagen that delivers cellular regeneration, protection and derma-collagen synthesis. In fact, the company has said it has created the world’s largest selection of designer proteins, with unprecedented biocompatibility, functionality and benefits for consumers.
Here, Bio Market Insights’ Liz Gyekye catches up with Alexander Lorestani, Co-Founder and CEO at Geltor.
Liz Gyekye (LG): What’s the story behind Geltor (@GeltorInc)?
Alexander Lorestani (AL): The story starts out back in 2012 when I was doing a PhD programme at Princeton University with Nick Ouzounov, who is now the company’s CTO. We were both really excited at that time about what we could do industrially with biology. We had a particular interest in how these emerging technologies could get applied to things like consumer goods, food and beverage – things that touch people in their everyday lives. We were quite excited about the market and the new frontiers that were opening for these technologies. In 2015, we started the business and located to California to focus on our design platform.
LG: What inspired you get into this sector?
AL: It’s such an incredible thing to be working with biology as an important solution for these businesses. In particular, we were excited about the ability to bring performance, but also sustainability, and societal factors to these markets. We thought about how these ingredients had been historically sourced, specifically in relation to petroleum and animals. There is a legacy of these technologies not doing a great job of building up a supply chain. In essence, we were motivated in reshaping the supply chain by biology. Personally speaking, I was really motivated by human health, especially the way we currently build proteins from factory farms and how this translates into antibiotic resistance. Essentially, this issue goes from the field to the hospitals, where people get sick and not always get treated.
So, I was interested in how we could reshape the supply chain and the global impact it could have on public health. Nick was also motivated by the technology and also motivated by the environmental impact. He just happens to be a vegetarian. So, this was a personal motivator for him as well.
LG: Before founding the company, what were you doing?
AL: I was in a physician scientist training programme, where I was studying infections that make people sick in hospital. Ultimately, my goal was to run a hospital system where nobody got an infection that they did not originally have when they came to hospital. Hence, at medical school I was focused on infectious diseases and then in the lab I was a PhD student at Princeton.
LG: What’s been the biggest challenge in growing Geltor?
AL: We selected collagen as the first target a few years ago. At the same time, there has been a global boom in demand for collagen and animal-free ingredients. With those three things coming together in the marketplace, the biggest challenge for us so far has been scaling fast enough to provide the customers with the products that they need. From the beginning, we have been focused on building a scalable technology and the biggest challenge has been to scale the technology fast enough to meet the market on where it is today.
LG: Where is the demand?
AL: We have been seeing incredible growth in collagen-driven products. You just have to look at sectors such as nutraceuticals, sports beverages and cereals. There is high double-digit growth occurring in these markets globally for collagen-powered brands. The cosmetic business is a big market and is growing very nicely. There is a huge opportunity there. Even the ingestible collagen space is growing.
LG: What advice would you give to somebody looking to launch their products within the synthetic biology space?
AL: I would say do it. I would say getting going and putting your technology out as an idea is the hardest part. I think we are at an exciting moment today, where some of the most motivated and passionate people are really pouring themselves into the sector. So, in relation to building a company, there are more resources around today than there has ever been before in this space. Essentially, the hardest part is getting started. Yet, you have to realise that this is an incredible moment to be somebody who is passionate about biology today. I really don’t think there has been another time like this.
LG: What’s coming up next for your company?
AL: We are continuing to scale our process. We have launched two products in the personal care and cosmetics space. We are going to continue to launch products in that category. At the beginning of this year, we announced the first Geltor-power product (HumaColl21 – pictured above), which was a Unilever brand that first came out in South Korea. That product was a smash hit. It was around 40% of market share. Since the brand came out, it has sold something like 70-million-plus units. That’s a really exciting success story. What we are continuing to focus on in personal care is trying to reshape that bedrock of the layer of ingredients for this industry. It’s a half a trillion-dollar industry. So, I am really interested on the impact that biology can have here for all the reasons that I mentioned before.
Looking ahead, we are really excited about partnering with other large companies that have a real need for high performance, and sustainable ingredients for the personal care or food and nutrition space. However, for now, our main focus is on the cosmetic and personal care space.
LG: What’s your favourite synthetic biology product?
AL: In the building that we work in there is a café, and in this café they have been serving the Impossible Burger for the past year and a half. I have eaten a ridiculous number of them and I absolutely love the product. I remember the first time I took a bite of this, it felt like the first time I signed off on the internet. I remember thinking I don’t know what this is, but I want to be a part of it.
Alexander Lorestani, Co-Founder and CEO at Geltor, is a confirmed speaker at SynBio Markets (Berlin, 18-19 November 2019) where he will be discussing scaling up a start-up ‘without going bust’.