EvoEnzyme: Bringing Directed Evolution-Based Enzyme Design to the Market

Presented by the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office

For more than 20 years, a group of researchers from the Catalysis and Petrochemical Institute of the Spanish National Research Council have been working on enzyme design through directed evolution.

"Evolved enzymes: custom-designed and using libraries of thousands of variants to provide tailored solutions for different sectors."

The potential of these research outcomes reaching society in the form of products led the researchers’ to create EvoEnzyme, an offshoot of the Council that was established in 2019 to allow some of these outcomes to reach the market, thereby enabling them to be applied immediately to numerous industrial processes to replace environmentally unfriendly or energy-inefficient methods. This Council offshoot was therefore founded with a serious commitment to the achievement of sustainable development goals.

The hallmark of EvoEnzyme is the use of an appropriate methodology suited to directed evolution alongside a collection of exclusive evolved enzymes that are not currently available on the market and are protected by the Council’s patent No. WO/2017/081355; the exploitation rights have been licensed exclusively to EvoEnzyme.

The patent is a vital asset for the company as it acts as a guarantee of the technology offered for sale and provides credibility for future investors.

The company is able to offer a high-quality product thanks to the experience and proven track record of its research team, as well its vast library of already evolved enzymes available for commercialization or subsequent adaptation to the needs of its clients. It is therefore able to position itself as the foremost Spanish company in directed evolution, with a business model focused on two key products: the commercialization of its own evolved enzymes and the growth of research and development projects through the directed evolution of enzymes, enabling them to be applied immediately to numerous industrial processes to replace environmentally unfriendly or energy-inefficient methods.

In its initial stage, EvoEnzyme is primarily offering its services in directed evolution and the sale of enzymes to energy and environmental sectors interested in the development of sustainable alternatives to the degradation of plastics, bioplastics and biofuels. In a second stage, the company will target the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors.

In its first year, the company defined its business model and added value to it through the development of a value proposal attractive to its potential clients.

"EvoEnzyme is defined as evolving enzymes to assist various industries in improving the yield and efficiency of their processes, lowering costs and reducing the development time of their products.”

Moreover, it has secured funding to consolidate the project during its first four years from the company’s initial clients, financial awards and regional, national and European aid.

Figure 1. Major milestones achieved by EvoEnzyme since its establishment in January 2019

EvoEnzyme’s technological platform exclusively connects the latest generation of tools for directed evolution with its own custom-designed enzymes and libraries of thousands of variants, with a tremendous versatility and range of activity that enables it to provide tailored solutions for different sectors.

The objective of EvoEnzyme is to operate in a global market. In its initial stage (2019-2021), the company has set its aim at the European and North American markets, with the intention of extending its scope to the rest of the world, with a particular focus on the Asian and Latin American markets, in a second stage.

During this initial stage, EvoEnzyme has already acquired European and North American clients.

The technology of evolved enzymes: the latest generation of directed evolution

Enzymes are proteins that govern all chemical transformations that take place in living things, and constitute an expanding market worth over 7 billion euros per year. These biological catalysts are highly efficient energy models that make chemical reactions in nature one trillion times faster, while simultaneously being very environmentally friendly molecules.

However, to translate enzymes from natural environments to areas with applications of practical interest to humankind, they must be genetically manipulated and improved using a strategy known as directed evolution.

This groundbreaking technology makes it possible to exploit the immense potential of natural evolution to design a new kind of enzyme, while reducing the timescale of natural evolution from millions of years to mere weeks of laboratory work (see Figure 2).

Notably, Professor Frances H. Arnold of the California Institute of Technology, head of a research group on directed evolution, was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this revolutionary invention.

Figure 2. Directed evolution of enzymes. Through iterative cycles of mutation, recombination and selection countless enzyme properties are improved so that they can be applied in various biotechnology sectors.

Industrial property guarantees protection

The enzymes and libraries of evolved variants of EvoEnzyme are protected. In particular, the unspecific peroxygenase enzymes evolved by EvoEnzyme, enzymes unique to the company, are recognized in a patent with national phase entry (WO/2017/081355 - mutants of unspecific peroxygenase with high monooxygenase activity and uses thereof) licensed exclusively to EvoEnzyme, which guarantees its commercialization.

The awards keep coming

Despite being relatively new, the company has marked numerous milestones, the most significant of which include the signing of an industrial contract for the enzymatic degradation of plastics and the direct sale of evolved enzymes to various clients.

Emphasizing the company’s fundamental commitment to research and development activities, it was recently awarded a contract for European project H2020-BBI, in which it is a full partner in an international consortium for the biodegradation of thermostable composite plastics in the aeronautical and car industries.

As regards grants and awards, the company has received support from the RIS3-line 1 program of the Community of Madrid for the development of new technology-based start-ups (February 2020-February 2021), in addition to the following awards:

  • First prize from the HealthStart program of the Madri+D Foundation for best start-up in the health sector in the Community of Madrid;
  • A special incubation support prize and a monetary award for patent costs; the #Wer19 award (Women in Entrepreneurship European Roadshow)
  • The UUPrize for a revelatory start-up, awarded by the Women Startup Community in September 2019.

EvoEnzyme is an example of how new companies are able, through open innovation, to use knowledge developed by the Spanish National Research Council and with high added value to create new, competitive business models that are focused on improving the environment while helping to establish an internationally competitive industrial fabric in Spain.

Information about the patent holder

The Spanish National Research Council (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas) is a state agency for scientific research and the technological development of Spain. Its aim is to encourage, coordinate, develop and disseminate multidisciplinary scientific and technological research in order to contribute to the advancement of knowledge and to economic, social and cultural development.

The Council, by means of its 120 centers throughout Spain, carries out research in all scientific and technological fields. The Council is the number one patent applicant in Spain, applies for more European patents and international patents (applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty) than any other body in Spain, and has the third highest number of European patents of all European public bodies.

In the last five years, the Council has licensed 437 technologies for market exploitation, of which 216 have been protected by patents.

In the last 10 years, it has given rise to the establishment of more than 130 new technology companies based around the technologies developed by the Council.

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