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Startup Innovation Challenge

Allozymes' enzyme engineering is 'a paradigm shift' in biotech [Interview]

Article-Allozymes' enzyme engineering is 'a paradigm shift' in biotech [Interview]

Allozymes Team with trophy.jpg
Allozymes uses microfluidics technology to test millions of enzymes every day, allowing it to engineer the right enzymes to efficiently produce specific ingredients and help food companies to dramatically streamline their production processes.

The sixth edition of the Fi Global Startup Innovation Challenge, hosted during Fi Europe, gave startups the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a jury of R&D experts, investors, and major F&B industry company representatives. Allozymes took the award in the Most Innovative Service or Technology Supporting F&B category for its proprietary enzyme engineering technology.

We spoke with the company’s co-founder, Peyman Salehian about the benefits of enzyme engineering for the food industry, and why we are at the beginning of an exciting paradigm shift in biotechnology. 

“I wasn’t able to attend Fi Global in person this year because of COVID restrictions, so this award was very unexpected,” says Peyman. “Nonetheless, it is extremely important to us. The title of the award perfectly matches our vision, which shows that we are moving in the right direction, and that the food industry is in-line with our vision.”

Fast, efficient enzyme engineering

Peyman has successfully combined scientific expertise with entrepreneurial flair throughout his career. Originally from Iran, he set up his first technology transfer startup at just 22, before moving to Singapore in 2013 to complete a PhD. The focus of his work was on downstream bioprocessing design and separation, for which he won a prestigious government scholarship.

After graduating, he joined a tech consulting firm before recognising the potential of enzyme processing technology being pioneering at the National University of Singapore. In 2019, Peyman and his co-founder secured the exclusive patent licenses, and identified the food industry as a key target.  

“The focus of this technology was originally pharma, but we recognised the food industry’s need for fast and efficient enzyme processing,” recalls Peyman. “The food sector is being pushed by its customers to use this technology, but manufacturers often do not have the knowledge or capacity to do so. And current enzyme engineering processes can be time-consuming and super expensive.”

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Allozymes uses microfluidics technology to build and test millions of enzymes a day – the company says this is significantly faster and more cost-effective than current robotics technologies, which typically screen about 1000 samples a day. Increasing the speed of development and the probability of success means that companies can bring products to market in less time, and through using less resources. 

“I have a good example of this,” says Peyman. “A recent customer came to us to say that they were using ten tonnes of tomato skin to extract 3kg of ingredient and want to streamline this process. By looking at the skin, we worked out which enzymes work together in the tomato skin to produce the end ingredient; engineered these enzymes; and placed them in the yeast to ferment the desired ingredient. The client can now generate all the ingredient they need through fermentation.”

A step-change in biotechnology

This, says Peyman, represents a step-change in biotechnology, one that could greatly benefit the food industry.

“Enzymes currently extracted from nature – either from plants or animals – uses up resources,” he says. “And artificial ingredients are often made from oil derivatives, which customers do not want. This is where fermentation comes in. We identify natural pathways, then engineer enzymes in a way that can be used to manufacture ingredients.”

Going even further, Allozymes has plans to dramatically change how enzymes are found in the first place.

“What we are doing at the moment is engineering,” he explains. “Taking an enzyme and finding ways to make it more efficient. What we are also doing in parallel, however, is transforming how these enzymes are discovered.”

Peyman notes that the company is accumulating a huge amount of data through engineering. This data is being collected and used to build a massive library of enzymes, which will likely be available in three years.

“What this means is that companies, instead of going into nature to find enzymes, can just google what they are looking for in our data sets,” he says. “We think this will be a ground-breaking moment for biotransformation. It feels like biotech is currently on dial-up internet right now, and our aim is to move the sector one big step forward!”
TAGS: Innovation