The Arctic waters are known to display a high biodiversity, which is due to its extreme environment, leading to the development of unusual genetic traits to sustain life under such conditions.
Amid this harsh environment, the presence of Barents Biocentre Lab, the national marine biodiversity collection Marbank, and a strong marine bioprospecting research environment at the University of Tromsø, has formed a unique biotech milieu, allowing new biotechnology start-ups to flourish.
Jan Buch Andersen, the founder of Barentzymes, is a serial entrepreneur in the biotechnology industry, heading for a new challenge. Together with Sigurd Aase, a private Norwegian investor, Mr Andersen has just established a new company – Barentzymes AS – which is going to bring new enzymes for industrial biotechnology applications to the market. Without doubt, this is the most substantial start-up investment in biotechnology northern Norway has ever seen.
According to research by BCC, the industrial enzymes market is estimated to reach $4.4bn by 2015, and is in principle dominated by two key players, Novozymes and DuPont, who provide solutions primarily within biofuel and technical applications (such as detergents and washing powder). However, these two heavyweights largely disregard the potential that lies in bioprocessing of biological side streams. This is where Barentzymes comes into play, with an entirely fresh focus on the bio-degradation of biological resources and a business model based on meeting the customers’ needs.
Biotech: The “new oil” in Norway
According to an OECD report The Bioeconomy to 2030 up to 40 per cent of the global economy will be related to biotechnology. The Norwegian government strategically supports biotechnology, and its focus on marine bioprospecting has the potential to contribute to sustainable wealth creation. Biotechnology has been repeatedly referred to as the “new oil” among Norwegian policymakers and governmental institutions. Biotechnology offers technological solutions for many health related problems, as well as scarcity of resources. The application of biotechnology to production, health and industry could initiate the development of a “bioeconomy” where biotechnology is closely related to a share of economic output. The global population is set to reach nine billion by 2050, and many areas need urgent attention to solve potential food and resource shortages. We cannot depend solely on raising agricultural productions any longer. As half of the world’s food production ends up in waste, we are in need of finding new ways for a better use of agricultural and industry by-products. The bioeconomy will play a central role to providing solutions to these challenges.
Enzymes are substances responsible for metabolic processes that sustain life. They serve to catalyse the process, whenever one substance is to be transformed into another. Enzymes might have a plethora of applications in the food and beverage markets, as well, through cleaning agents, biofuel production, and animal feed to name a few; it’s a market that’s predicted to continue flourishing in the developing and developed regions. The growth is also related to the growing demands for healthy and nutritious processed foods. Barentzymes founder, Mr Andersen, strongly believes that the Arctic waters of The Barents Sea contain a staggering amount of highly specialised enzymes that could translate into new industrial applications. Indeed many years of research around Tromsø have documented that the cold marine waters contain a wealth of genetic variation displaying brand new variants of enzyme activities. The world is full of residual waste, and with the help of enzymes we can use by-products to produce animal feed and food for humans. Barentzymes will focus on enzyme products for the industrial market, that have significantly shorter development horizons to reach the market, than the highly specialised enzymes for diagnostics and pharmaceutical applications.
Customer-driven business model
As opposed to other enzyme companies, Barentzymes are willing to get their hands dirty when the customer approaches them with a problem. It is the customer who will define the direction of Barentzymes’ development activities, and with the team will consequently determine the search profile within the sequence material available; Barentzymes will then look for possible candidates using a unique sequence-based screening platform.
Barentzymes has access to genetic diversity from Tromsø, as well as from many more placed throughout the globe. This genetic diversity, along with access to leading bioinformatics analysts, sets the Barentzymes platform.
Due to the fact that the development of new enzymes by Barentzymes is based on a sequence-based discovery, the access to the relevant sequencing material, as well as acquiring world-leading know-how in sequence analysis have been of absolute importance. Thus, Barentzymes has attracted a team of experts headed by CSO Professor Lene Lange, a seasoned expert in the enzyme scientific community. The bioinformatics team is based on expertise from Aalborg University, Campus Copenhagen, and the Centre for Biological Sequence Analysis at DTU in Denmark. This collaboration combines years of experience in genome sequencing projects with new advanced tools making it possible to profile new enzyme’s properties to the functional level, based on the sequence. Precisely this ability to predict properties of an enzyme at in silico level allows Barentzymes to significantly reduce time and costs from the definition of a search target, to the testing of a live enzyme in a customer’s specific applications.
The proof is in the team
Mr Andersen strongly believes that a highly qualified team with extensive experience and access to the necessary professional networks is crucial to the success of Barentzymes. That is why nine of the twelve employees of Barentzymes hold PhDs, plus a distinguished list of research-related accomplishments within their respective fields. Their seven different nationalities bring to the table the first-hand knowledge of multiple international markets. Among them Lene Lange, a professor in Biotechnology and a Director of Research at Aalborg University in Denmark who leads the scientific team as a Chief Scientific Office. Professor Lange has reached Research Director level positions in both industry and academia. Two of Barentzymes employees have more than 25 years business development and application science experience from leading companies in the international enzyme industry. In fact, the Barentzymes start-up team has acquired extensive experience from all parts of the knowledge-value-chain: research, technology, development, innovation, application testing and business development.
Barentzymes is going global from day one and has already attracted significant interest from international players in need of customer-tailored enzyme solutions. So keep an eye out for this new exciting venture and its potential to transform the industrial enzymes market.