Seattle, WA-based Lumen Bioscience, a synthetic biotechnology company developing a novel bio-based product development platform, has raised $13 million of new capital, including a Series A investment round totaling $11.2M and a $1.8M grant from the US Department of Energy. The financing was led by Avista Development, BioEconomy Capital, company founders and other Seattle-area biotech investors. The funding will scale up Lumen’s first product launch in 2018.

Lumen’s tools and methods use spirulina to make high-value proteins and other molecules for foods, cosmetics, medicine, and industry. Traditional biotech platforms, many based on yeast and E. coli, have proven unsuitable for the large-scale production of certain classes of proteins and other biologics. Lumen is developing technology that focuses on spirulina as an important new production platform for the biotechnology industry.

“We are excited to announce our series A financing, which will fully fund the commercial launch of our first product, a natural blue colorant for high-purity applications in the food and cosmetics industries,” said Brian Finrow, Lumen’s CEO and co-founder. “Together with the federal grant we received over the summer, these funds will allow our research team to build out the complete set of microbiology tools and methods needed to unlock our platform’s vast commercial potential. Lumen is poised to have a big impact on the $1.5 billion market for natural colorants, and that’s only a small piece of the larger opportunity we and our collaborators expect to access with this new technology.”

Lumen claims that their improved spirulina strains produce more of this protein pigment at higher purity but a fraction of the cost of traditional methods, and without introducing foreign gene pathways from other species. More stable versions of this pigment and a palette of additional colors are also in the pipeline.

“For years, demand has grown for natural alternatives to food and cosmetics with artificial colors made from petroleum and coal tar, which many believe to be unhealthy,” Mr. Finrow said. “But high cost and variable quality have held back natural colors from being widely adopted. The color blue has been a particularly tough challenge, because few plants make it in harvestable quantities. Lumen’s platform can lower cost, increase production and quality control, and unleash Spirulina extract’s enormous market potential with consumers.”

In collaboration with researchers at leading universities and research institutions in Seattle’s medical tech hub and nationwide, Lumen is also exploring numerous therapeutic applications of its core technology, taking advantage of other aspects of spirulina’s unique biology. For example, recombinant vaccines built on Lumen’s platform have demonstrated immune responses in a variety of species following oral vaccination.

Ultimately, the technology will enable faster scale-up and deployment of new vaccines and other therapeutics, and lower production costs.

Jim Roberts, Lumen’s Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder, most recently led a team of scientists that designed and built biofuel-producing algae strains for the international energy powerhouse Reliance Industries. “I’m excited by the groundbreaking and patented technologies that our scientists have developed, which allow us to now use spirulina to produce biologics and therapeutics at a cost that has not been previously possible,” he said. “At the moment, we are tightly focused on our two core programs — pigments and oral therapeutics — but we believe our breakthrough methods will enable many powerful new applications for the biotechnology industry.”

Foundational research for Lumen’s technology was conducted by Seattle-based Matrix Genetics, which focused on producing biofuels in cyanobacteria. Last April, Lumen acquired all of Matrix’s IP, equipment, biological materials and other key assets, and key members of the Matrix research and development team joined Lumen.