For the last 15-20 years, numerous companies have been using various biotechnology approaches in an attempt to develop economically viable routes for various bio-based products. These approaches have traditionally taken a long time and used a significant amount of money to do so. Along the development path, they have faced a variety of technical barriers, especially when they have attempted to scale up their processes.
Matthew Lipscomb, CEO and co-founder of DMC Biotechnologies, a US biotechnology company, says that DMC has found a solution to address these barriers and revolutionise the way the $1.11 trillion speciality chemical markets are supplied.
Speciality chemicals are currently produced from three common routes: derivation from petroleum, extraction from plants, or fermentation. DMC, which stands for ‘Dynamic Metabolic Control’, has developed a platform technology that it is now deploying towards the production of a broad variety of bio-based products with market applications in human and animal nutrition and flavour and fragrances, to name a few. Summing up DMC’s advantage, Lipscomb explains that “the company’s technology enables a significant reduction in the cost of development and results in a best-in class bioprocess to produce a desired product”.
Essentially, DMC makes bio-based products using enhanced microbial fermentation in a standardised, two-stage fermentation process. The company is able to engineer microbes to be highly efficient producers of desired products. Lipscomb explains that the company has developed a library of more than 800 unique microbial strains, which it uses as catalysts to make bio-based products. The microbe is grown during the first stage of the process. During the second stage of the process, the microbe is no longer growing and its engineered metabolism is dynamically “re-wired” to convert feedstock into the desired product. He goes on to say that DMC’s technology “effectively prunes away the components of metabolism that would be detrimental to the highly efficient production of the product that we are interested in.” This approach of dynamically “pruning” metabolism has the additional benefit of creating microbes that are robust to the fermentation environment, reducing the challenges that are commonly associated with scale-up.
Historically, bio-processes have been sensitive to the scale of production, resulting in long and costly development cycles. “For the first time in the field, we have been able to demonstrate that our high throughput approaches are predictive of performance at larger scale. This enables unparalleled efficiency in our development cost and timelines,” Lipscomb says.
DMC’s lead product family is the branched chain amino acids, which have markets in animal and human nutrition. “There is currently strong demand for these amino acids in these markets; however, the incumbent production routes are not able to provide them at a price point to enable broad adoption in the market,” according to Lipscomb. “Customer discovery efforts have indicated that the market will grow rapidly if those amino acids can be provided at the target price point,” Lipscomb explains.
In addition to amino acids, the company is developing a large pipeline of bio-based product families that includes organic acids, esters, and terpenoids. One example in the terpenoid family is a compound called limonene, which is a by-product of the citrus industry and is commonly used in household cleaning products. The global market is currently estimated at approximately $500 million per year. However, the citrus industry has been impacted by a number of challenges in recent years due to factors such as an increase in severe weather events and a fungal blight that has reduced citrus crop productivity in both North and South America. Consequently, citrus costs have increased by around 150%. “Instead of being subjected to the vagaries of the agricultural cycle, we can produce limonene in a controlled fermentation environment and provide a greater reliability in the supply chain,” Lipscomb says.
Lipscomb says that customer demand for DMC’s products is already strong. The company intends to send samples to customers in the next few years and is already advancing on deals. This is not a bad journey for a company that started in 2014 with grant funding and an academic lab at North Carolina-based Duke University. Fast forward to now, and DMC has since been able to get financial backing from venture capital specialist Capricorn Venture Partners.
Lipscomb says: “We know that customer demand for our products is there. We have opportunities to partner and get those products out in the marketplace even faster. We are evaluating a number of opportunities.” Looking forward, the company has around six products ready to go to pilot scale and is planning to progress with its first commercial launch soon. The industrial biotechnology is sure to be watching this space.
This article was first published in issue 13 of the Bio Market Insights Quarterly.