Prolific Machines, with $55M Series B, Sheds ‘Light’ on Better Way to Grow Lab Proteins for Food and Medicine

Two years ago, Fertile machines presented its technology for unique production approach to cell culture for industry, including cultured meat. Today, the Emeryville, California-based company said it is ready to come to market with a bioreactor that will enable that growth.

Deniz Kent, Max Huisman and Declan Jones founded the company in 2020 to focus on more efficient and sustainable ways to produce food and medicine. This would involve culturing and controlling the cells without the need for expensive recombinant proteins to produce the cells.

Today’s cell biology processes are used to make everything from antibodies for immunotherapies to nutritional proteins found in infant formula.

But molecular methods are expensive (more expensive than a gram of gold). And they are difficult to control. Kent gave the example of putting cream in coffee and it moves randomly as it dissolves, meaning the cells go where they want to go. And current methods are imprecise, with the cell growth you get today may not be what you get tomorrow or a year from now, Kent said. Additionally, cell growth is difficult to optimize because it is not in a format that machines can understand.

«For the last few decades, the way we’ve been controlling cells is with molecules,» Kent said. «These molecules could be chemicals or they could be proteins. We add these molecules to the bioreactors and hope for the best.»

Prolific Machines, bioreactor
Prolific Machines bioreactor for protein production (Image: Prolific Machines)
Image credits: Prolific Machines /

Prolific Machines believes it has a way to transition from these molecules to something better: light. Light is used in many different applications today, from food preparation with microalgae, etc Brevel works, to detect contamination, like what Spore. was works.

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Light solves most of those cell growth problems, Kent said. It’s a cheap commodity, you can put the light anywhere you want, you can turn it on and off as needed, and the light is the same today as it will be for years. You can also split light waves for use in different use cases. In addition, machines understand light because it’s just electrons running in a circuit board and going into an LED, Kent said.

Prolific Machines’ bioreactors are ready for customers and will allow them to more efficiently bioproduce high-value bioproducts, including dietary proteins, antibodies to treat diseases and whole cuts of cultured meat.

The company offers genetic tools, essentially strands of DNA that use light to create things like eliminate growth factors or turn one type of cell into another. It also offers cell lines, one chassis of bovine cells for food applications and one chassis of Cho cells for pharmaceutical applications. Then there is hardware that puts light into the bioreactors and measures how that light interacts with the cell. Finally, there is a software component with an algorithm that takes the spectral data and determines the best light pattern for the application.

All of this enabled $55 million in new Series B funding. Series B is led by The Ki Tua Fund, the corporate venture arm of Fonterra Co-operative Group, with participation from a group that includes Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Mayfield, SOSV, Shorewind Capital, Darco Capital, Conti Ventures and In-Q-Tel (IQT). This includes convertible notes and brings Prolific Machines’ total funding to date to $86.5 million.

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Kent intends to use the new funds to commercialize and acquire customers.

«Now we’re moving from proving this works to giving this to people,» he said. «We’ve started working with some commercial partners, but we won’t announce that yet.»

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