Dr. Craig Behnke has joined Lumen Bioscience as Senior Vice President, Production and Development.

Lumen Bioscience, a Seattle company developing novel biologics on its proprietary spirulina expression platform, has announced that Dr. Craig Behnke has joined its executive team as Senior Vice President, Production and Development.

Dr. Behnke will assume leadership of Lumen’s existing production and development teams. He joins as Lumen launches its first product, RioBlue™, a high-purity protein extract used as a blue colorant by the food and cosmetics industries. Dr. Behnke previously served as Vice President of Research and Development at Sapphire Energy in San Diego, a pioneer in the industrial-scale cultivation of photosynthetic microbes.

“We are pleased to welcome Dr. Behnke to Lumen’s senior leadership team,” said Brian Finrow, Lumen’s CEO and co-founder. “Craig’s experience makes him the perfect leader to scale commercial production beyond our current facility in Seattle. His scientific background and history of scaling up biological systems at Sapphire will be invaluable as we continue to expand our capacity.”

Used first as a nutritional supplement for its naturally high protein, vitamin and antioxidant content, US spirulina extract sales soared after 2014 when the FDA approved it for use as a natural food colorant. Today it remains the only approved natural blue food pigment in the US, and is used mainly as a natural alternative to FD&C Blue #1, an artificial food colorant that is synthesized from petroleum.

“I am thrilled to be joining such a talented group of scientists, engineers, and quality professionals,” Dr. Behnke said. “This team has built a robust, integrated, cGMP-compliant production system to produce the highest possible quality product. They’ve laid a great foundation as we look to scale production to meet global demand over the next 24-36 months. Over the course of my career I have had the good fortune to participate in some remarkable achievements in bio-process yield improvement, and I’m excited to help unlock the enormous commercial potential of this fascinating new platform.” Dr. Behnke holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Washington and an M.S. in Biochemistry from Kansas State.

In addition to its core colorants business, Lumen has also won research funding to use its new platform to develop ultra-low-cost biologic drugs and vaccines, all of which rely upon the same integrated, FDA cGMP production platform. In May, the National Institutes of Health awarded Lumen a grant to continue developing its oral malaria vaccine, and last month Lumen announced additional research funding from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for other vaccine and antibody research programs.