Rethinking food, for us and for our gut microbes:
With a growing population and a changing climate, our world’s food systems are in for some major changes in the not-so-distant future. Scientists agree that more people transitioning to a plant-based diet will be a critical part of a future where emissions are mitigated and food security is ensured. But even for the most sympathetic carnivores among us, that transition can be difficult. Most would agree that the meat and dairy alternative products on the market are, at best, a poor imitation and, at worst, simply unpalatable.
Enter TheNotCo, a startup that had the innovative gall to think that this problem ought to be turned over to artificial intelligence. TheNotCo developed an AI software program, named Giuseppe, designed to take in structural and molecular information about food composition and spit out a formula for creating an imitation product that is identical in taste and texture, but can be made with plant-based ingredients. Their pipeline already includes plant-based alternatives for milk, cream cheese, mayo, and Greek yogurt—all brought to you by an AI robot who, sadly, can never taste any of them.
Finless Foods shares TheNotCo’s mission of helping to transform the world’s sustainable and ecofriendly food production, but as their name suggests, they’re looking to disrupt the market for fish. The company’s platform is based on culturing fish meat with the shape and texture of a fish fillet. With all of the enthusiasm that the possibility of growing red meat in a petri dish has gotten, it’s about time someone decided to take on the same challenge in fish.
Finally, Sugarlogix isn’t concerned with feeding the people of the world as it is with feeding their microscopic partners in digestion: the gut microbiome. Sugarlogix’s research has indicated that human consumption of rare sugars, such as those found in breast milk, results in these sugars going straight to your gut bacteria rather than straight to your waistline. By fueling the beneficial occupants of the gut microbiome, their fermented product seeks to treat conditions of the GI tract like inflammatory bowel disease.
Tackling cancer from the inside, the outside, before, and after:
With a third of the startups making up IndieBio’s latest batch boast missions revolving around cancer, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the diversity and innovation among their platforms. DNALite Therapeutics, on the one hand, wants to prevent cancer before it sets in with their non-viral gene therapy technology. The first product in their pipeline targets a hereditary colon cancer called Familial Adenomatous Polyposis, which happens to be the second deadliest cancer in the U.S.
QuantumCyte, on the other hand, is developing a single-cell analysis technology that will help make improve cancer treatment for those who already suffer from it. With their ability to unravel a tumor’s composition cell by cell, their tech can characterize the structure of a lesion and the genetic profile of its cells. Such a detailed look at each patient’s cancer is undeniably empowering for their treatment—and maybe will bring the world one step closer to that still-elusive vision of personalized medicine for all.
The recent news that Senator John McCain was diagnosed with the brain cancer known as glioblastoma brought renewed attention to a particularly intractable variety of the disease. Luckily Stelvio Oncology is already thinking outside the box on how to battle this aggressive and difficult-to-treat form of cancer. By understanding how epigenetic signatures determine a cancer cell’s fate as benign or malignant, the company hopes that they can offer personalized treatment for glioblastoma without running the common risk of drug resistance development.
Of course, even when patients are fortunate enough to win their battle with cancer, the literal and figurative scars of the disease can linger. Bioaesthetics is a tissue engineering company that wants to make dealing with those scars a little easier for breast cancer survivors. Their flagship product is an acellular, graftable nipple-aerolar complex that can be used during reconstructive surgery on women who have undergone mastectomies in the face of cancer.
Bioaesthetics isn’t alone among its class as a company based on tissue engineering. Prellis Biologics’ platform is based on human tissue 3D printing for addressing the human organ shortage and accelerating therapeutics R&D. Their tech solves one of the trickiest problems with 3D printed organs: microvasculature, or the existence of tiny veins threaded throughout an organ that carry oxygen and nutrients to the tissue. With their sub-micrometer printing resolution, Prellis can create single layers of cells and build tissue scaffolds for organs from the inside out. Their very first challenge has been creating transplantable Islets of Langerhans, which are responsible for secreting insulin in the pancreas.
Let the data drive:
More and more companies are realizing the power of computation in biology, and now joining their ranks is Proteorex Therapeutics. They’re a self-described data-driven drug discovery company that seeks to develop small molecule drugs for treating diseases for which targets have been established but drug development thus far has failed. With the front end of their platform existing in silico, Proteorex can rapidly get at good candidates for molecules that disrupt protein complexes known to be implicated in disease.
As an ever-greater number of companies drawing on the power of data, Health Linkages is stepping in to fill the need for managing, protecting and understanding that data. The company provides data provenance specifically for healthcare, tracking historical information linked to individual data points and using a strategy called blockchain to protect that data at every step.
Chemicals made smarter and removed smarter:
The application of chemicals for agriculture and industry is inevitable for life as we know it. But from Pheronym’s view, if we can’t avoid using them, we might as well be smart about it. The agbio startup is taking a novel approach to fighting the class of parasites known as nematodes (or roundworms) by getting in their heads. Pheronym is developing sprayable solutions of roundworm pheromones that send a signal to certain species that they should infect insects (specifically crop pests) and convince other species not to infect crops. It’s a two-for-one approach to pest control that comes with the added bonus of being completely environmentally friendly.
Last but not least, UBA Biologix is a company that is working to remove environmental toxins from wastewater through new pathways of bioremediation. Originally founded to reduce sulfate levels in mining waste water in South Africa, they are expanding to target gold, coal, and platinum mines as well as other industrial wastewater applications.