L’Oréal to Scale Up Green Chemistry Thanks to Debut Biotech – WWD

L’Oréal to Scale Up Green Chemistry Thanks to Debut Biotech – WWD

PARIS – L’Oréal is prepping to take green chemistry to the next level.

The world’s biggest beauty player, via its BOLD venture capital fund, has taken a minority stake in U.S.-based biotech startup Debut, which specializes in “cell-free” ingredient manufacturing.

The beauty giant led a $34 million round of Series B funding in the San Diego-based firm.

L’Oréal sees the nascent technology – through which new, naturally-derived active ingredients can be reproduced, at scale, in the lab — as being key to helping the firm reach its sustainability goals, notably around renewable raw materials, which the group has pledged will account for 95 percent of the ingredients in its formulas by 2030.

According to L’Oréal’s deputy chief executive officer in charge of research, innovation and technology Barbara Lavernos, Debut “addresses one of the beauty world’s fundamental challenges, which is driving limitless, open innovation without the resource-intensity and environmental impact that comes with relying on traditional manufacturing alone.”

Debut, founded four years ago, specializes in the vertically integrated discovery, development, testing and manufacturing of novel ingredients, and claims to now be ready to produce these for the beauty market at scale.

Its IP portfolio includes more than 7,000 ingredients that can be created without the need for living cells, and the company claims it can take an ingredient like a polyphenol from discovery to delivery in as little as six weeks.

In layman’s terms, the company’s scientists, thanks to genome research, have developed a method of studying how plants make molecules in nature, then replicating the process at scale using enzymes – for example sugar – in its laboratories. The technology works faster than nature can with a process that is considerably less resource-intensive and more reliable than growing plants, flowers or trees, Debut claims.

“The ability of biotechnology is to always produce the ingredients of absolutely the highest standards consistently,” Debut founder and CEO Joshua Britton, a Brit expatriate to California who discovered the potential of the technology when researching his PhD at the University of California, Irvine, told WWD.

The molecules it has tested also perform better than naturally derived ingredients, according to Debut.

“In some cases, these new ingredients are a thousandfold improvement in critical functions like barrier protection, anti-oxidant activity or even senescence,” Britton explained.

Debut claims it is the only biotech player with full vertical integration capabilities incorporating ingredient discovery, clinically-backed scalable ingredients and brands on shelf – it plans to introduce its own brands in the latter part of the year.

The L’Oréal partnership, which gives the beauty giant exclusive access to Debut’s technology for cosmetics, involves Debut developing a variety of novel ingredients and personal care products using its proprietary cell-free and biotechnology model, with a view to accelerating the technology industry-wide.

The process, it says, overcomes the limitations of cell-based fermentation, allowing it to produce high-value ingredients found only in trace amounts in nature rapidly and more sustainably.

The sustainability aspect is key. “You no longer have fields of cultivation required, you have no pesticides, you have less water, less CO2,” Britton explained.

“One of the biggest challenges [of our sustainability targets] is how we’re going to be able to have access to a set of natural ingredients that can scale at the level of consumption of our industry,” L’Oréal president of tech and open innovation Guive Balooch told WWD.

To meet its goals, “We need to have partnerships with innovative startups that are working in the space of biotechnology and synthetic biology,” Balooch explained.

The tie-up follows the March announcement that L’Oréal would join an initiative led by Genomatica Inc. to harness the powers of biotechnology.

“Now we’re venturing into a really new space, cell-free biotech,” said Balooch. “There is a huge amount of potential in using cellular processes to make green molecules, green actives of the future. Now, because of technology, there’s been a rise in the ability to do what the cells do without the cells.”

The technology also offers the advantage of speed. “They can go a lot faster, because cells take a lot of time to make these processes for green formulas,” Balooch explained. “The potential is really huge, it’s like a brand-new area of green science.…If it can go where we think it will, it will allow us to go exponentially faster, to be able to make the kind of volume that we would need in our industry.”

“Cell-free biomanufacturing is not science fiction: It is here, and with intelligent infrastructural investment, will be ready for mainstreaming in the beauty industry,” stated Lavernos.

Debut’s initial focus is skin care, but applications for hair care and color cosmetics are also in the pipeline.

According to Britton, biotech development will mean a major overhaul for the beauty space in the next decade. “The majority of ways that active ingredients are made today are either through chemical synthesis or cultivation, and that’s the way it’s had to be done,” he explained. “The days of vitamin C and Retinol as hero ingredients is history.…You won’t see the traditional ingredients being reformulated anymore.”

With Debut’s Bio2Consumer platform, which spans ingredient discovery, biofermentation, formulation, clinical trials and brand creation, L’Oréal will also have access to its database of 3.8 million pre-clinical data points for finding new ingredients that address the needs of beauty consumers. It is L’Oréal’s biggest direct investment to date in a synthetic biology company.

The other participating investors in the funding round include Cavallo Ventures, Fine Structure Ventures, Material Impact, ACVC Ventures, Sandbox Sustainability Ventures and GS Ventures.

This content was originally published here.