A new start-up, Octarine Bio, is working to modify yeast, causing it to produce molecules that are better than those found in nature.

The company is based on research from DTU Biosustain and University of Copenhagen, and researchers are already producing some of the active substances found naturally in the cannabis plant. Octarine Bio has also identified approximately a thousand new substances with commercial potential.

In recent years, several ingredients in the cannabis plant—also known as cannabinoids—have been the subject of great interest. Particularly the substances THC and CBD have attracted attention, as several studies have demonstrated that they have a strong effect in the treatment of epilepsy, chronic pain, and muscle spasms.

However, despite the general consensus that THC and CBD hold great therapeutic potential, there are a number of challenges associated with these substances.

“The substances are not easily absorbed by the body and are only found in very small quantities in the plant. At Octarine Bio, we’re striving to modify the yeast cells, enabling them to produce new variants of these substances that are more easily absorbed by the body, thus resulting in better medication,” says Nicholas Milne, co-founder and a postdoc at DTU Biosustain.

Different routes
Large, well-consolidated biotech companies such as Amyris and Gingko are already working to move genes from the cannabis plant and inserting them into yeast to artificially produce the cannabis plant’s constituents.

Octarine Bio will not only want to focus on the already existing constituents of the cannabis plant, but will produce entirely new cannabinoids that are too difficult to produce by means of chemical synthesis. The company wants to map the so-called biosynthetic routes and thereby exploit yeast’s ability to produce substances sustainably through fermentation.

“We’ve identified about a thousand new substances that we can produce. The task will now be to select the substances with the greatest commercial potential and focus on making them really well for the benefit of the pharmaceutical industry and patients,” says Nicholas Milne.

The method opens not only for a more sustainable way to produce potential medicines, but also the production of new drugs that currently cannot be produced using chemical synthesis.

First step along the way
In order to prepare the company to become a healthy business in the long term, Octarine Bio has become part of BioInnovation Institute’s programme for business development.

“Right now, we have a good idea, a little bit IP (intellectual property, ed.) , and some interesting technologies, but we need to create a business model and learn more about what the market demands,” says Nicholas Milne.

Even though Octarine Bio still is a biotech baby, it can be an interesting company to follow, as the market for synthetic cannabinoids in 2030 is expected to be in the region of USD 50 billion.