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Fermelanta is using fermentation to create safer, cost-effective alternatives to chemicals

May 15, 2024

FermelantaExternal site: a new window will open. is a Japanese startup focused on the biotech space, dedicated to enhancing human and planetary health by harnessing valuable natural molecules through eco-friendly fermentation. They’ve developed an innovative technology that integrates multistep biosynthetic genes into host cells, optimizing organism functions, enzyme expression, and balance, powered by comprehensive data analysis.

There are many potential applications for Fermelanta’s microbial fermentation process to create plant-based alternatives, for use in healthcare, agriculture, and even manufacturing. We spoke with one of the founders of Fermelanta, Shogo FukizakiExternal site: a new window will open., to learn about the company, their unique fermentation process, and the potential for their technology to replace dangerous chemicals sustainably.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself, your background, and what brought you to start Fermelanta?

I had worked with Japanese fermentation companies when I was at global investment banks, but noticed that a new technology, called synthetic biology, was taking off in the United States or other regions, and had the potential to produce rare materials. I wanted to do that in Japan as well utilizing and synergizing it with Japanese well-established fermentation technology, and met with our co-founders, who worked in Ishikawa Prefectural University, and started our business.

Photo of the founders. From left to right: CTO Akira Nakagawa, CEO Shogo Fukizaki, CSO Hiromichi Minami.
(provided by Fermelanta)

What makes your fermentation process unique?

All living things have metabolic systems inside the body to sustain themselves, and chemical compounds are built up and decomposed through chemical reactions. So in other words, the metabolic system is organized into biosynthetic pathways where one chemical is transformed into another one through a series of steps, and each step is catalyzed by a specific enzyme. Enzymes are proteins, and their blueprints are coded as genetic information.

What we do is, we introduce foreign genes into microorganisms and give them a special ability, in the metabolic pathway, to produce target compounds. They rapidly grow, taking sugar, air, or some supplements, and the engineered cells can produce target compounds in just a few days.

One uniqueness of our process is that we use bacteria rather than yeast. It's said that yeast is easier than bacteria since yeast is a higher biological system like plants for using plant-derived enzymes. However, we have successfully overcome such difficulties. We can select bacteria to produce plant-derived compounds. And with bacteria, it's easier to overexpress proteins or enzymes to engineer and manipulate the metabolic system and then overproduce target compounds. Bacteria are much faster and their culture media is much cheaper. So we believe all these factors affect cost advantages in the mass production process in a long term.

That means we can transform the current industrial production process completely to a fermentation process. For example, instead of chemical plants or facilities, we can do fermentation, or instead of plant extraction or agriculture, we can use fermentation. We believe that will be a kind of industrial revolution in the world.

The image of Fermelanta’s process (provided by Fermelanta)

Can you talk a bit about your target customers and market, and how you plan to reach them?

In Japan, there are very few players focusing on biomanufacturing of complex but high-valued compounds using synthetic biology approach, I think maybe only our company is doing this. Our process is an alternative to the traditional process, or the traditional supply chain, which depends on very time-consuming agriculture or cultivation, and it's very hard to extract rare ingredients from plants.

Fermentation has a lot of advantages to that process. It will take only a few days to produce the compound at much cheaper cost because we can engineer cells to produce only the target compounds much and also it's very scalable because we can put fermentation tanks anywhere.

What are some of your key challenges going forward?

There are multiple pipelines of projects on which we are currently working. We believe we can produce many kinds of compounds by fermentation processes. But currently we have a lot of challenges we have to overcome.

We are a very small company with 20 people, so we have to hire more researchers to maintain our ongoing projects or our traction. So that's what we face now. We are trying to hire new talented people. Most of our researchers have changed their careers from an academic field like molecular biology or genetics. We will try to expand our internal resources and expand joint development projects in a short time.

Cost advantage is a big challenge. Right now, chemical reactions are very cheap because oil-based raw materials are very cheap especially for bulk chemicals. And so we need to overcome a lot of technical difficulties to produce products that can compete with the production costs of chemical plants as we want.

How do you plan to scale and commercialize your fermentation process?

We aim to commercialize our products by 2027. In five years, we will be a totally different company. Now we have just 20 people on our team. Maybe in five years, I think we want to have more than 100 or 200 people, and commercialized products. We want to be a real company with an established business.

We have been recently adapted to two national projects. One project with the Ministry of Economy is to develop our fundamental technologies for cell engineering applied to our own target compounds. The second project with the Ministry of Agriculture is to demonstrate our scale up process for mass production. So, in the next four years we will build our pilot plant for various beneficial ingredients at a semicommercial scale.

Profile of Shogo Fukizaki, Co-Founder & CEO of Fermelanta, Inc.
LinkedinExternal site: a new window will open.

Shogo Fukizaki is the Co-Founder & CEO of Fermelanta, Inc. The company is a Japan-based biomanufacturing startup developing bacterial cells to produce plant-based small molecules for human health and nutrition. Previously, he worked at Barclays or Deutsche Bank, engaging in financial advisory services for cross-border M&A and financing executions. He graduated from the University of Tokyo, majoring in Economics.

Report by:
UEDA Momoka, Startup Support Division, JETRO

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