Evonik gives JeNaCell a big push in nanocellulose

March 2, 2016 |

BD TS 030316 JeNa smFrom Germany comes the news that JeNaCell will launch its new nanocellulose-based therapeutic product later this month. The products aim at medical cosmetology, laser treatments, and skin sensitivities or to supplement aesthetic procedures such as exfoliation. As documented by current studies, they have a long-lasting moisturizing, cooling, and soothing effect on the skin and support the natural regeneration of sensitive skin.

Why nanocellulose at all?

It’s one of nanocellulose’s many promising applications — optimized treatment of burn wounds as well as chronic wounds. This is made possible thanks to its special material properties, which combine the benefits of plant-based cellulose with those of nanostructured materials. Nanocellulose is not only particularly absorbent, but also extremely tear-resistant. In addition, it stands out for its high biocompatibility. JeNaCell opines, “the material has a pleasant feel on the skin, regulates the moisture level of wounds, and can be removed painlessly because it does not stick to the skin.”

Why this application?

Treatment with wound dressings made from nanocellulose is less painful, since the material has a cooling effect and the dressings can be changed easily. At the same time, the material keeps the affected areas moist, which accelerates healing and reduces scarring. Nanocellulose can also be loaded with medical and cosmetic ingredients for controlled release over time.

The field is getting hot. We’ve been reporting on breakthroughs at American Process for some time. But this week, Evonik Chairman Klaus Engel was spotted on a visit to JeNaCell where he praised the company as “an outstanding example of industrial biotechnology’s potential. It is impressive to witness how scientific research is turned into market-ready products here. This is true entrepreneurial spirit.”

Doesn’t sound to us as if Evonik is feeling one bit sorry about its Series A strategic investment in JeNaCell last July, part of a Series A round, along with funds from bmt and the Sparkasse Jena bank. Further investors included High-Tech-Gründerfonds and Thuringia Foundation for Technology, Innovation and Research (STIFT), which had previously provided seed funding. JeNaCell was originally a spinoff venture of Friedrich Schiller University, and was founded in 2012 by two chemists, Nadine Heßler and Dana Kralisch.

As you might imagine, Evonik is looking way down the track beyond wound therapeutics — seeing biotech-based nanocellulose as an innovative material platform. Think of nanocellulose as a carrier system for cosmetic and medical active ingredients, for one.

Evonik and JeNaCell have already initiated the first joint projects in this area. In addition, JeNaCell is working with process technology engineers from Evonik to look into ways of further expanding the scale of its nanocellulose production process.

The JeNaCell breakthrough

What’s the big deal with this technology? Nanocellulose can be manufactured with biotechnology methods, using bacteria in a nutrient medium. The microorganisms produce the material in fiber network at the surface to protect themselves against drying out and other risks. It had previously not been possible to automate the production; fermentation had to be restarted after every harvest from the resting culture media. JeNaCell has now developed an automated production technology for nanocellulose in a continuous loop. The product is regularly removed without interfering with fermentation. This allows for producing large quantities of the material while reducing costs.

But not everything is perfectly rosy in Scale-Up Land

Ah, yes, originally the product line launch was going to happen by the end of last year. Then, silence. Now, we have Evonik’s chairman touring the facilities and a hasty announce after five months of “we see nothing, we know nothing” that the launch is now on for March. In the long-run, no one will care about a 3-month slip-back into Q1 — so long as the delay has nothing to do with troubles in scaling the technology, and getting JeNaCell separation technology working well enough to get the nanocellulose out of the broth.

Evonik’s ambitions and strategic investments

Evonik is doing a whole bunch of corporate venturing — in all, looking to invest around $108 million in what it describes as “promising start-ups with innovative technologies and in leading specialized venture capital funds as part of its venture capital activities. Regional focus areas are Europe, the USA, and Asia. Evonik currently holds shares in six start-ups and three funds. More on that here.

At the time of the JeNaCell Series A, Bernhard Mohr, the head of Venture Capital at Evonik commented that ”JeNaCell is an outstanding strategic fit for Evonik. The company’s technology supplements our competencies in biotechnology and in the area of delivery systems for active medical ingredients.”

Unsurprisingly, JeNaCell was pumped, too. Nadine Heßler, the founder and executive manager at JeNaCell, said ”With Evonik, we have gained a strategic investor with extensive expertise in the set-up and operation of biotechnology production facilities and who can support us in accessing the market.”


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