An article written by Singapore Economic Development Board – the full article can be found here.
When former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt proclaimed last year that “in ten years from now, the Bio Economy could be worth $4 trillion”, and that his team is working to realise the potential of the section, a formidable duo of scientists-cum-entrepreneurs had already been working for 5 years on a biotechnology concept that might very well help beat this forecast.
Meet Dr Akbar Vahidi and Dr Peyman Salehian, the co-founders of Singapore-based startup Allozymes, the past winner of the Future Food Asia Award which recognises innovative startups in the agrifood space. As the former was doing his PhD at the National University of Singapore in 2017, the latter, a serial entrepreneur also originating from Iran, was already brewing ideas for a new business. Peyman is no stranger to commercialising technology developed in a lab, having scaled his previous venture to a team of 50. It certainly helped that Akbar was precisely working on solutions to accelerate enzyme development, a well-known bottleneck for the scale-up of novel industrial bio-solutions. After offers to relocate to other parts of the world where there have been more advancements in biotech, the duo decided to contiue in Singapore where there is an opportunity to bridge the gap in enzyme technology in Asia.
For enzymes are humble molecules, but they can be proud and finicky! Playing an essential role in the assembly of many industrial products, enzymes are proteins that speed up reactions and improve yield, but don’t thrive in just any conditions. This is where enzyme discovery, design and development kick in. Combining the power of data and biology, Allozymes is developing a next-gen synthetic biology platform, leveraging ultra-high throughput microfluidics.
From a university spin-out to an emerging market leader, here are 4 principles that have guided Allozymes’ founders so far.
Dr Peyman Salehian (left) and Dr Akbar Vahidi (right) in their lab at Biopolis, Singapore
Fall in love with a big problem in a growing sector
According to a report published by the BCG in February 2022, Synthetic Biology – also known as synbio – is about to disrupt many sectors of the manufacturing industry, eventually giving birth to the much-needed Bio Economy. With the genesis of their technology in biopharma (they do enzyme engineering for APIs), Allozymes has quickly embraced the need for greener, more sustainable bioproduction processes across a wide array of industries. They are progressively expanding their platform capabilities to screen and engineer enzymes for food, chemical and biopharma applications, unlocking the power of custom-designed enzymes.
The foray into agrifood echoes Singapore’s “30-by-30” initiative and is at the crossroad of many regional strategies. Just as an example, Southeast Asia is home to large quantities of agricultural waste such as rice husk, wheat straw and palm waste that are too often burnt or dumped away. Both practices take a toll on the environment. But what if we could extract value from it? Upcycling waste is not a new idea, yet Allozymes has focused on a bottleneck that had so far made it impossible to industrially convert these residues, and goes as far as converting them into a “better sugar” thanks to the wonder enzyme they have designed. Rewarded with a USD 750,000 grant from Temasek Foundation in December 2021, Allozymes has been able to progress this innovation and prove the viability of his licensing model. For if there is one thing Peyman would advise any aspiring entrepreneur to be obsessed with, it’s “the path to commercialization. This mindset will shape your technology development and reduce the risk of failure.”
Endorse the “miracle” of thinking big and become the Google of enzymes
In the deep tech environment of biomanufacturing, one could be surprised by how much the way to new enzyme discovery is paved with trials and errors. Never short of ambitious goals, Allozymes are looking to become “the Google of enzymes” through developing an unparalleled enzyme database.
Leveraging their proprietary, ultra-high throughput microfluidics technology to build the largest in-house biocatalytic data sets at a rate of 10 millions of new data points per day, the platform is poised to revolutionize biomanufacturing, within which the food industry has recently rediscovered the potential of precision fermentation.
This means that when a company needs a new enzyme, instead of turning to nature and searching the soil or trying alternative – and fairly empirical – methods to find the enzyme they are looking for, they will be able to basically “google” what they are looking for in the Allozymes database. This is smashing traditional costs and timelines while improving reliable industrial outcomes all at once.
This is simply transformative for biomanufacturing and Allozymes is building this global progress here in Singapore, supported by visionary investors and a strategic business ecosystem. And to cater to its growing global opportunities across industries, Allozymes is developing an agile, customer-driven service and product offers:
- SingZyme is their fee-for-service model for single enzyme screening and engineering;
- MultiZyme names the licensing or direct sales of specialty natural compounds produced through cell-free or cell-based methods via multiple enzyme engineering and strain engineering;
- SmartZyme dubbed the “Google of enzymes” is a SaaS model for fast and targeted novel enzyme discovery.
Be at the right place, right time
If the timing could not be better for Allozymes, many start-ups have failed by lack of focus, and too many opportunities can be a double-edged sword. There are several large synthetic biology hubs in the world and geographic proximity often plays an important role when venture capitalists decide on an investment. Some of the large international investors who approached Allozymes for their Seed Round in 2021 were no exception and made their investment contingent on the company’s relocation.
However in the end Allozymes decided to move ahead with Xora Innovation who gave them the chance to stay in Singapore, seeing in the absence of a strong regional synbio platform an opportunity for Allozymes – a critical enabling technology – to be the one.
“Being headquartered in Singapore comes with challenges and opportunities. But government support for deep tech startups incentivises founders to work closely with policy makers, unlock global networks and opportunities, and push the boundaries forward. This would be very difficult in other countries.”, says Peyman. From the leadership position it has taken in biopharma in the 90’s to its more recent focus on agrifoodtech innovation, Singapore is “like in the centre of Asia for us, and we can tap into the regional ecosystem across different industry sectors easily”.
Craft a winning team with a “Global from Day One” mindset
Allozymes has big plans for the future. Winning the Future Food Asia (FFA) Award in 2021 brought a new wave of customer interest to Allozymes, coming from the agrifood sector. “We had the opportunity to attend the FFA Conference again, this time in person in 2022 in Singapore. Placed under the theme of ‘grounds for optimism’, after spending two days with some of the most innovative minds in Asia, our optimism was at an all-time high. We feel privileged to contribute to addressing the challenge of climate change in our own way.”
With a strong IP pipeline designed to protect their end-to-end enzyme and strain development platform, the young start-up has grown from 2 to 20+ employees in just two years, and is proud of the diversity of their team – both greatly benefiting from being based in Singapore – and great camaraderie and dedication of all their colleagues from diverse nationalities and cultures. “Our people are our brand, and we are dedicated to international culture at Allozymes”, says Peyman.
There is no textbook to business. Placing human capital at the highest level, the start-up is starting to expand in Europe from Singapore to the world.
Image courtesy of Allozymes
EDB Singapore | Mar 03, 2023