Triton Algae Raises $5M to Bring First Product to Market Next Year
In the spring of 2012, when Jason Pyle announced his departure from San Diego’s Sapphire Energy, he told me he already was deeply involved with a new enterprise that was in stealth mode. Much of the work was being done in San Diego, he said, but nothing beyond that.
Today the wraps are coming off of Triton Algae Innovations; a synthetic biology startup based in San Diego that says it has closed on $5 million in Series A funding, according to a statement from the company.
The investment in Triton came from Heliae Technology Holdings, part of an industrial biotechnology company based in Gilbert, AZ, that raised $28.4 million in July to support the operation of its first commercial algae production facility. The Arizona plant is expected to begin operating this month, “supplying high value personal care and nutraceutical products to existing customers,” according to a Heliae press release in July.
Whether Heliae also intends to make algae-based products for Triton is unclear, as Pyle was unavailable for comment late yesterday. Triton co-founder Stephen Mayfield, who is director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology at UC San Diego (and who also was a scientific co-founder of Sapphire Energy), is in Tokyo this week and could not be reached for comment.
Triton says it has developed a synthetic biology platform that also uses algae to produce “high value” proteins. The company says it already is producing complex proteins, enzymes, and other biologics that are cost-effective and can be immediately used in agricultural, pharmaceutical, and other retail markets.
Mayfield, an expert in the genetics of algae, explained a few years ago that algae are ideal organisms for producing biotech drugs because they are relatively easy to grow, especially in comparison to other organisms like bacteria, yeast, and mammalian cells that are used to make many biotechnology drugs.
The concept is similar for both: After identifying and isolating the gene that directs cellular machinery to produce a particular therapeutic protein or antibody, scientists insert the gene into cultured cells. If the scientists have done their job right, the inserted genetic instructions program the organisms to begin producing the proteins.
Algae, however, doesn’t require the big fermenting containers and other expensive machinery used by big drug companies.
Triton says its first product is a protein called Mammary Associated Amyloid (MMA), which is normally produced in the colostrum and stimulates the production of mucus coating along the inner walls of the digestive tract. A statement from the company says the protein “is known to prevent the colonization of pathogenic bacteria that would result in the onset of diarrheal diseases.”
Triton said its first product will be synthetic MMA, expected to be commercially available in 2014. The company says MMA “has the potential to address diarrheal diseases worldwide, which account for over two million human deaths each year, are the leading cause of infant mortality, and kill approximately 20 percent of the world’s livestock.”
Triton also has been developing products that could be used to treat cancer, an approach Mayfield outlined for Xconomy in 2009.
Triton says proteins produced using its PhycoLogix process will be used in pharmaceuticals, neutraceuticals, cosmetics, and human and animal health and nutrition products.