You never imagined that biological materials such as elastin and collagen, which could only be obtained from animals such as pigs and cattle, can now be constructed by new-generation genetic engineering technology and synthetic biology, using plant systems.
In 2017, Wu Junjun, Liao Bihong, and Cai Shijie, former researchers at the Animal Center of the Taiwan Experimental Research Institute, saw the trend of precision medicine in the future and determined to leave the experimental research institute to establish Gecoll. They are aiming at mass production of humanized biomedical materials using gene editing and synthetic biology.
Dr. Wu Junjun, Liao Bihong and Cai Shijie have more than ten years of research and development experience in biomedical material development, veterinary medicine and genetic engineering.
During the work of the research institute, the three cultivated a tacit understanding of working together. After long-term communication, they found that the field of biomedical materials has prominent pain points and rare opportunities. Coupled with the complementarity of each other’s expertise, the three of them resigned and started a business in the industry. In the early days of entrepreneurship, the most familiar biological platform of specific pathogen-free experimental rats was selected to produce human versions of collagen.
Large-segment gene editing technology, development of humanoid mouse platform
At this stage, the main sources of collagen raw materials are terrestrial animal and poultry (pigs, cattle mostly) skin and bones, freshwater fish skins, fish scales and deep-sea fish skins. Zhang Xingdong, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, once publicly stated: “Collagen-based biomaterials have broad development potential and economic value and have been listed as high-tech biomaterials for national key development. So far, most of medical collagen comes from animal sources. Elimination has always been a bottleneck restricting its development. ”
Wu Junjun believes: “The immunogenicity of animal-derived collagen has limited the clinical application of such materials. The use of genetic engineering technology to reconstitute human-derived collagen is an ideal way to solve the problem of immunogenicity. Therefore, we initially planned to use large Fragment gene editing technology to extract human-derived collagen from humanoid mice. ”
Maintain animal welfare and build plant platforms to produce human elastin
While setting up anthropomorphic platform to produce humanized collagen, Gecoll founder Liao Bihong, because of the culture of Tzu Chi University in Taiwan for many years, coupled with international and world trends, gradually paid attention to animal welfare and environmental protection, and advocated for reduction. The use and consumption of animals decided to change the company’s production strategy.
After more than a year of hard work, Gecoll successfully directed technology to Taiwan rice. Using Taiwanese rice, a human version of elastin was produced, subverting the public’s perception that rice can only be eaten, and turning rice into a “producer” for the production of human raw materials.
Gecoll uses genetic engineering technology to allow rice stem cells to secrete expressed proteins, extract human elastin from suspensions secreted by rice stem cells, and allow vegetarians to use plant-derived biomedical ingredients with peace of mind. In addition to the development of vegetarian humanized collagen, Gecoll can also produce a series of growth factors and other medical proteins.
Elastin is a protein with elastic fibers. It is widely distributed in various tissues and organs in animals. It mainly exists in elastic tissues such as cervical ligaments, blood vessels, lungs, and skin. It plays an important role in supporting morphology. Is a scarce and expensive raw material that is important for tissue regeneration and repair.
Taking skin tissue as an example, although the elastin content only accounts for about 3 to 5%, its strong stretchability and elasticity are the elements that maintain skin elasticity. If the spring bed is used as a metaphor for skin tissue, collagen is like a sponge and is widely distributed under the mattress. Elastin supports the entire mattress like a spring. It is the soul of the spring bed and determines the elasticity and softness of the skin. .
Wu Junjun said: “In addition to skin care filling, elastin is also an important medical raw material, which can be used in drug carriers, tissue engineering, and 3D vascular tissue printing.”
Starting from Taiwan, facing the global market in the future
Gecoll’s core competitiveness lies in its leading LS-GeneEditing large fragment gene editing technology and synthetic biology platform.
At present, there are two main business models of Gecoll: one is to directly sell a variety of biomedical materials to medical material developers; the other is to establish cooperative relationships with mid- and downstream companies to jointly develop products, such as beauty products, using their respective advantages. , Scientific research products and medical devices.
Gecoll’s thinking on business models originated from an entrepreneurial competition. In order to encourage young researchers to start businesses, and guide universities and research institutions to establish a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and create an environment for business transformation, Taiwan holds an innovation and entrepreneurship incentive plan every year. In 2017, three people who had not yet started a company decided to participate in the competition.
Wu Junjun lamented: “The judges and entrepreneurial mentors of the competition have pointed out that our blind spot is that the team’s focus is technology, and there is no detailed plan for marketing and profit models. After the mentor’s advice, we have determined the business model. Because of our technology, With the team and other advantages, we have won the Outstanding Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Incentive Program and received a 2 million yuan entrepreneurship bonus. ”
After all, the Taiwan market is not big enough, and Gecoll set his sights on the global market. Its founder once said: “I had only one idea at the time: Taiwan was small, and the total R & D value of any new drug company in the world was more than all the resources on biotechnology in Taiwan.” Therefore, they hope to expand more. Big market.
After using the rice platform to mass produce humanized biomedical raw materials, Gecoll plans to develop follow-up products for beauty, scientific research and medical beauty medical equipment. And this requires regulatory certification, their intention is the American standard, and expect to complete and launch the product within 3-4 years. “At present, there are not many competitors in the field of humanized biomedical raw materials, and there are differences in price and quality. We believe that we can meet the needs of specific markets.”
In addition to the US market, Gecoll also has expectations for the domestic market within easy reach. In 2018, Gecoll participated in the China Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, and won the first place in the start-up group. In 2019, Gecoll participated in the Guangzhou Youth Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition and won the second prize in the start-up group.
The two entries made the Gecoll team better understand the domestic market and the situation. They learned that the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area should focus on accelerating the development of the health service industry, strengthening the deep integration of production, teaching and research, and improving the transformation of scientific and technological achievements. Wu Junjun introduced: “Gecoll’s goal is to produce humanized medical materials and become an upstream raw material provider of precision medical beauty. Relevant biological parks are gathered in Huangpu and Nansha in Guangzhou. The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is an ideal place for dreams and dreams. A larger environment is also a place where the project can be cultivated. ”
Therefore, Gecoll set up an office in Nansha Industrial Park, Guangdong Medical Valley, and plans to land. At the same time, the Gecoll team stated that in the future, production will be based on the market and partners.
In addition to establishing rice to produce human elastin, Gecoll will continue to develop other stem cell therapies in the future. Facing the increasingly fierce field of stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine, Gecoll has already made product development planning and global operation layout. In the future, it will cooperate with companies in precision medicine, midstream and downstream, hoping to overturn the global biomedical raw material industry and provide a safer, More effective and traceable biomedical products.
At this stage, Gecoll plans to launch a new round of financing, with a financing amount of 80 million yuan, which is mainly used for rice extraction humanized biomedical raw material plant construction, medical raw material certification, and marketing.