“At some stage you have to stop being the most promising biotech company and start to deliver. We aim to produce the first batches of commercial carotenoid compounds within two and half years. What we are going to now is demonstrate that we have what it takes to do just that,” CEO Emmanuel Petiot told us.
The company, which was established in 2006 and is listed on NYSE Alternext since 2010, released its financial results last week, showing a 0.2% reduction in net loss from €6.5m in 2014 to €6.4m in 2015.
It is targeting the huge demand for natural coloring options, particularly in the US market.
But the supply of bio-based carotenoids remains limited by high production costs. Deinove said its challenge is to reduce those to meet the high demand. It said it also wants to ensure supply stability, consistent quality and conservation of natural resources while doing so.
The company has obtained proof of concept for five different carotenoid molecules and said its technology has increased yields by a factor of 6 to 8.
“Initially we will be targeting the poultry – skin and yolk pigmentation - and aquaculture sectors,” said Petiot.
The global carotenoid market was worth $1.5bn in 2014. This market is expected to reach nearly $1.8bn in 2019, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.9%, according to BCC Research.
The largest share of the current production comes from the chemical synthesis of petroleum derivatives.
Industrial production of natural carotenoids can be carried out through biotechnological processes using filamentous fungi, yeasts, bacteria or microalgae or solid-liquid extraction from plants.
One of the core strengths of Deinove, said Petiot, is that it has a large platform to work from - its library contains 6,000 irrigation derived bacteria strains.
The producer is exploiting the genetic and metabolic potential of Deinococcus, a bacterium said to have unusual robustness and singular genetic properties that can be modified to produce compounds from non-food biomass components that other organisms cannot exploit.
“A lot of biotechnology companies only have half a dozen or no more than 10 strains to work from and they are typically derived from Escherichia coli or Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We have significant gene diversity to leverage,” said Petiot.
And he said Deinococcus bacteria naturally produce carotenoids.
Deinove is currently focusing on addressing regulatory procedure in the US, the EU and Asia, a prerequisite for scaling up production.
The first toxicity tests have demonstrated the general non-pathogenicity of Deinococcus strains, said the CEO.
More specific efficacy tests requiring a more significant production capacity are needed to gain regulatory approvals. “We have to multiply the trials,” said the CEO.
But functional testing costs. “Thanks to our investors, we have the cash required for the next two years,” said the CEO, referencing the €2.2m in public funding it received from ADEME and Bpifrance in 2015, added to the €1.7m it generated last year under the French R&D tax credit, CIR, and the €4.6m it raised through the line of equity financing it signed with Kepler Cheuvreux in December 2014.
It also bulked up its infrastructure last year, adding 20 new fermenters to speed up research.
But the wider animal nutrition sector is also the firm’s radar. Along with its ongoing deal with French agribusiness group, Avril, aimed at testing the nutritional effects of the compounds produced by the Deinococcus strains for animals, Deinove entered a partnership with US based Flint Hills Resources (FHR) a few months ago to expand its potential in the feed sector.
“It is a 17 month project. We will screen our library of 6,000 strains to identify and optimize bacteria that are able to grow in good conditions based on raw materials supplied by FHR,” said Petiot.