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CORK, Ireland, June 16, 2017 /RebelBio/ – Teams from across the world are building tomorrow’s technologies using living things at RebelBio, the Ireland-based accelerator for startups in synthetic biology.

What kind of startups are brewing in the “Rebel County”? From a personal diagnostic device for sexual health to waste-powered microbial fuel cells to clean up the environment, biomaker kits, artificial intelligence and new molecular machinery for better medicines.

“These world changing technologies are all on the fast track to real revenues, completely bypassing most of the traditional hurdles associated with life sciences investments,” said Bill Liao, Founder of RebelBio and SOSV General Partner.

With an investment of $100,000, the teams also gain access to fully equipped labs, office spaces and a network of hundreds of mentors.

However, this innovation engine is offering more than capital: RebelBio is focused on transforming scientists and technologists into successful entrepreneurs, to build the future with biology.

So what kind of startups are brewing in the “Rebel County”?  


Diagnostics 2.0: Rapid, Portable and Personal

One RebelBio startup is Sex Positive, founded by Nico Bouchard and Mary Ward – both biohackers from California which have designed a personal testing kit for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

The Sex+ smart diagnostic is a battery powered stick that combines fluid dynamics, genetics and Tesla-inspired electrical engineering to thermally break out DNA from bacteria from your urine sample (dropped into the device).

From here, the presence of nasty visitors like gonorrhea or chlamydia is detected and displayed on a mini-LCD screen, empowering users to monitor their sexual health outside of the clinic – privately.

Another startup, Kaitek Labs from Chile, is developing a rapid ready-to-use biosensor kit, but for the toxin in shellfish which contaminates food during harmful algal blooms. This toxin can affect anyone living in coastal regions that depend on shellfish as a key part of their diet, to diners in restaurants across the world and Kaitek have already sold its first batch of tests.

On the other hand, since many diagnostic tests for cancer can cost a lot and take over three days of agonized waiting, Italian startup Oncology and Cytogenetic Products (OaCP) is using their novel, patented reagent to enhance the process, half the cost and reduce diagnosis time to as little as two hours!

“Biology is becoming more and more digital. As such, its acceleration potential is exponential, just like information technology,” explained Elsa Sotiriadis, Programme Director of RebelBio.


Left – Sex Positive co-founder and CSO Mary Ward, Right – Prototype of Sex Positive’s personal in vitro sexually transmitted infection test

Continuing on the health theme, Galactica Biotech is using machine learning algorithms to speed up drug discovery. The team – from the UK, Spain, Moscow and Mexico – has developed its own artificial intelligence to do this, with its first project to identify new compounds against a major cancer target.

Valanx Biotech, on the other hand, is a university spin-out from Austria, also offering their services to the pharma industry. They synthesize custom, programmable protein-conjugates at a fraction of both cost and speed to competitors in the biomanufacturing industry.

In addition to securing their first customer, they’ve also just won an additional €180,000 ($210,000) as a research grant.

Another oncology-focused startup is CyCa OncoSolutions which has developed a new type of molecular biomachinery to deliver anything from fluorescent markers, to plasmids and anti-cancer drugs across the cell membrane.

But what about animal health? Khonsu Therapeuticsanother university spin-out, is producing a therapeutic protein for autoimmune and inflammatory conditions such as eczema and arthritis. The team is focusing on both human and animal targets, initially entering through the US equine market.


Left – The Galactica Biotech team at the Pioneers Conference in Vienna, Right – The Khonsu Therapeutics team

Personal maker-kits to build with biology

Products like the above could also potentially be manufactured with a biomaker kit. Cell-Free is breaking a billion year old processor out of the confinement of the cell to enable anyone, anywhere to read DNA and manufacture biomolecules with a cell-free machinery: a “Rasperri Pi” model for biology.

In coming years, point-of-care cell sized factories for products like insulin and vaccines could drastically improve the availability of medicines, while consumer biotech applications can also be pursued: custom colors like hot pink, banana smells – even glow-in-the-dark ink!

“Biological sensors, detectors and processors will be core to this. We are building the tools that will allow innovators from all backgrounds to engineer the materials of the future,” said Dr. Thomas Meany, Co-founder and CEO of Cell-Free.

cell_free_tech_ rca_sosv_biodesign_rebelbio_synbio_biomaker

Right— Rapid prototyping kit to “take biology from imagination to creation”. Left — A design-test-build cycle with Bio.Pixel visualisation on the existing open-source maker platform (part of the BioDesign Challenge), so that synthesis can be followed live via an app (Image: Helene Steiner, Biodesign Challenge, Royal College of Art)

Growing the Circular Economy

On a completely different track, by 2050, up to 66% of the world’s population will live in cities, according to the United Nations.

“Biomimicry harnesses the efficiency of nature’s highly evolved blueprints. Constructing cities with biology has already started and is integral to building a productive, circular economy,” said Sotiriadis.

For example, NuLEAF Tech team came together in 2015 when Rachel Major, CEO of NuLEAF, was an intern at the NASA Ames Advanced Studies Lab.

By combining plant modules and cells that contain waste guzzling bacteria, NuLEAF has worked out how to clean thousands of liters of wastewater sustainably.

The resulting hybrid wetland-plant microbial fuel cell costs less in construction, operation and maintenance than traditional waste treatment plants, even generating electricity to power their green-cleaning work autonomously!

The biomimetic modules also come in smaller, vertical arrangements that can be installed in homes and growing smart cities, or even be used to create high-tech ecosystems.


Left – NuLEAF Tech’s CEO Rachel Major and CTO Ari Ochoa. Right – a team prototype of their microbial fuel cells

Another movement in greener biotechnology is programming microorganisms and plants to produce useful compounds like medicines or cosmetics.

Alternative Plants is unlocking the hidden botanical treasures for cosmetics found in plants by using stem cell cultures to grow them. This makes these inaccessible compounds, often from endangered plant species, available sustainably so wild populations aren’t diminished.

SwaLife Biotech is also extracting novel alkaloids from plants, some of which have already shown promising results against DNA breakage. The team’s first product will be a next-generation sunscreen for the consumer market, with potential use in medicine down the road.

Then Phyteau Functionals is working on a patented nutritional supplement that acts as a gut receptor agonist for weight and blood sugar level management, while PlantEdit is using an exclusive genome-editing platform to produce GMO-regulation free designer foods.

Canuevo is joining the front line of the medical paradigm shift over cannabis-based products using its cutting-edge encapsulation technology for cannabidiol (CBD), a compound already being trialed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and rare forms of childhood epilepsy. The team already has their CBD-based creams, tablets and crystals on the market.

Meanwhile, Hemoalgae is rewiring the metabolic circuits of micro-algae to produce high- quality hirudin, a major anticoagulant produced by leeches.

Since hirudin is difficult to extract from these blood suckers, Hemoalgae has innovated a method using biotechnology to sustainably produce the medicine, which is useful and safer alternative to heparin for dissolving blood clots.


Left — Elza Kaktiņa and CEO Anna Ramata-Stunda of the Alternative Plants team, Right — Some of AP’s lab work 



RebelBio is the world’s first and leading early-stage startup accelerator focused on solving global grand challenges with biology.

Previously known as IndieBio EU, RebelBio is part of SOSV – an accelerator VC – which has $300 million in assets under management and is the world’s most active investor in synthetic biology (Silicon Republic).

SOSV is also running the leading seed-stage accelerator IndieBio in San Francisco, US.

Exclusive invites to investors are currently being sent out for the upcoming DemoDay, to be held July 26 in London, so get in touch for your invite. 

 Feature Image @WR36 via @Twenty20
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