Biotech’s Rapid Evolution and Its Moonshot to Save Our Planet

By Darlene Damm Darlene Damm has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on September 19, 2023

Around the world, people are grappling with the tragic aftermath of the Industrial Era. After three hundred years of extracting resources from the earth to build our modern society, we are now drowning in plastics, pollution, toxic waste, greenhouse gasses, and the environmental consequences of disrupting the planet’s ecosystems and destroying up to half the planet’s biomass. While such extraction was necessary for human progress at the time, we now have Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, like biotech, that provide us with better options.

I recently caught up with Juan Francisco Llamazares, one of our Singularity alums and the co-founder of Stämm, a biotech company building the technological infrastructure to produce up to 60% of everything we need through biological manufacturing.

Biological manufacturing is an emerging industry that allows us to grow pharmaceuticals, therapeutics, food, clothing, oils, and more by harnessing the power of natural or genetically engineered cells and microbes. Biological manufacturing can range from genetically engineering yeast to create perfume, re-growing human organs cell by cell, and growing cow cells in a vat to create beef or leather.

As this industry takes off, we may even see our current siloed industries of healthcare, food, clothing, and material science merge into one new industry. Radically creating a better way to produce things is the moonshot driving Stämm.

Founded in 2016, Stämm is working to provide the infrastructure that will allow the biological manufacturing industry to work at scale. The first sector they are tackling is healthcare and, specifically, developing a better way to research, reprogram, grow, and sort cells. Why would one want to do this? If we better understand how disease happens at the cellular level, we might be able to come up with new treatments.

If we can reprogram cells, we can do things like genetically engineer a person’s immune system cells to attack cancer cells growing in their body. We need to grow and sort cells to create things like antibodies, which can kill viruses or treat autoimmune diseases. While all of these applications are important, we need to grow cells in devices outside the human body to be able to do any of them. While the technology exists to do this today, there is a huge bottleneck in terms of growing the cells we will need at the rate needed for everyone on the planet.

Stämm’s first step in tackling this bottleneck has been creating a new way to grow cells for research and biological treatments. Traditionally, biological manufacturing works by growing cells in large sterilized steel vats (or disposable plastic containers), pumping nutrients into the vat through pipes, and using a motor to stir and rotate the vat. Stämm has built a new device to replace the bioreactor, which they refer to as a bioprocessor.

The bioprocessor, compact enough to occupy a spot on a kitchen table, draws its design inspiration from nature’s intricate systems through a concept known as biomimicry. Unlike the expansive vats seen in bioreactors, this device, intricately laced with tiny tubes and channels, mirrors the sophistication of the human vascular system, serving as an ideal habitat to nurture and grow cells. This approach uses laminar flow (the same way cells travel through our body) to grow and access nutrients, rather than a motorized system.

The system can also monitor the cells through inline and online sensors or sampling, both in terms of their health and growth, as well as measuring the outcomes of any scientific experiments or reactions performed on the cells. The bioprocessor operates continuously and autonomously, and tests have shown it can run up to 90 days with a goal of reaching 180 days. Meanwhile, operators must frequently stop, maintain, and clean traditional bioreactors due to their shorter run times.

Stämm also uses artificial intelligence to gain insights from the raw data generated by any bioreactor, runs simulations of potential research and therapies, and has an LLM chat interface making it super easy to collaborate with the AI. The plug-and-play decentralized system, which the company created their first prototype of in 2023, is able to perform 20 different applications, from running scientific experiments to growing tissue.

To build the bioprocessor, Stämm built their own 3D printers that print the cartridges using bioink resin customized to specific cells and experiments. They also created their own software that designs and simulates the microvascular systems inside the cartridges. By taking this new approach, on average, they have observed an increase of 40% in protein production per cell outperforming control levels, with certain cases reaching 60% and 200% improvements over existing systems, with plans to continue to increase these numbers.

In August, Stämm hosted their DEMO DÄY 2023, where you can learn more about all the different components and applications of the bioprocessor, their progress, and the technology they built to create it. In addition to a higher level of output, the system requires fewer inputs and is thus more efficient and better for the environment. In fact, everything Stämm is doing is not only about doing things better for the environment but shifting our whole concept of how we see our environment.

Llamazares notes that during the Industrial Era, we separated ourselves from biology, creating concepts of artificial and natural. But what does that really mean?

Is reprogramming cells something artificial, or is it our next stage of evolution in human biology? Is artificial intelligence something artificial, or is it just intelligence? At some point, cells became complex enough to name themselves, name their environments, and label their own intelligence.

As we enter the age of biological manufacturing, do we still need to distinguish between ourselves and our biology? While these might seem like philosophical questions unrelated to the business, Stämm’s ability to grapple with them and see our current reality through different paradigms is also what powers their use of biomimicry, their creative and new approaches, and might be the key to helping them achieve their moonshot.

By Darlene Damm Darlene Damm has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Darlene Damm is a contributor at Grit Daily. She is the Vice President of Community and Impact at Singularity Group, where she focuses on helping people understand how exponential technologies are creating abundance in the global grand challenge areas.

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