Infinite Enzymes, LLC (Private)
October 15, 2012 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Infinite Enzymes, LLC is the Low-Cost Enzyme Producer that will Enable the Biofuels Industry
Elizabeth Hood has more than thirty-five years of experience in biology. She is currently Distinguished Professor of Agriculture at Arkansas State University. Previously, she was Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Technology Transfer, also at Arkansas State University. She runs an active research lab in plant-based protein production technology and cell wall structure and function. Dr. Hood was a Program Director in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at the National Science Foundation during the 2003-2004 academic year. She was a leader in forming one of the world’s foremost transgenic plant research groups at ProdiGene, a plant biotechnology company. Previous to ProdiGene, Dr. Hood was director of the cell biology group for plant production of therapeutic proteins at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a Fortune 500 Company.
State University, AR 72467
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – October 15, 2012
Dr. Hood: We are a plant biotechnology company. Our technology platform is to produce enzymes, which are proteins that break down or build up biological molecules. We are making them at a cost that is competitive or less expensive than the current process, but with much less capital equipment investment. Our interest is in cellulases which are the enzymes that are important for breaking down plant structures such as cellulosic materials so that the raw material can be used to manufacture either bio fuels or bio based products.
CEOCFO: What have you discovered at Infinite Enzymes that will allow you to do this at a lower cost?
Dr. Hood: Our technology takes genes from fungi that make the enzymes in their own process and we do gene transfer, or genetic engineering, to put those genes for the enzymes into corn. The corn then manufactures the enzymes in their seeds and their seeds are a highly stable environment for enzymes to be stored for long periods. If we manufacture those enzymes in seeds then we can grow the corn in a field and produce many of those enzymes without building any manufacturing plants or facilities that cost millions of dollars, in order to manufacture our enzymes. One cost savings is in not building infrastructure because we do not need it to grow these crops. The second savings is that we can accumulate many of these enzymes in the seed so that the actual manufacturing cost is quite low, because all you have to do is harvest the corn and extract the enzyme out of the seed.
CEOCFO: Is this a new concept?
Dr. Hood: A company by the name of ProdiGene, Inc. started this a number of years ago. ProdiGene was out of College Station, Texas. They were sold in about 2003 and stopped the manufacturing process. We are partnering with another entity who is carrying on that work. Using the seed as the bio-factory is unique to that group. There are other groups that are using plants to express these enzymes but not on the grain as a manufacturing process.
CEOCFO: Where are you in the development process?
Dr. Hood: We have developed two products to the production stage. These are two enzymes that work on cellulose, which is the molecule we are trying to break down. They are in production now but it is a very small scale. We are approaching a market for reagents enzymes, for laboratory use, (research) at this time. We received an SBIR Phase I grant from the USDA a year and a half ago that allowed us to develop the first product and now we are in the process of purifying the enzyme for our second product. We have an agreement with a distributor to be selling it through their catalog.
CEOCFO: Is the industry aware or is Infinite Enzymes still under the radar screen?
Dr. Hood: We participate in a number of conferences at the national level and the international level, so we have discussed our technology a number of times. People are aware. What we feel like we need to do is perform a scaled-up trial of our enzymes in the biomass conversion setting, a pilot scale setting, in order for our technology to have credibility in the biomass/biofuels arena.
CEOCFO: When you explain to industry people what you have done, do they believe it?
Dr. Hood: They believe that we have good expression; they believe that our enzymes work. They do not believe that we will be able to achieve the cost part of it, that we will be able to address cost-competitive production.
CEOCFO: How do you counter that and what gives you the confidence that you can achieve the cost targets?
Dr. Hood: For one thing, it is the fact that we use an agricultural crop to produce the enzymes that allows us to make an accurate estimate for the manufacturing costs. Corn processing costs are well known. Growing corn is a very well established industry, so we are not making any leaps of faith here. The issue for us is scale-up. We just have not done it at a large enough scale to make anybody really jump up and down about it. The people that we are competing against are very large manufacturing producers and there is some push-back from them. We are their competition but they just dismiss us because we are small. I believe that our models are correct and we need to do a pilot trial and that is in the plans in the next couple of years.
CEOCFO: Development and commercialization are quite expensive, does Infinite Enzymes have funding for the next steps?
Dr. Hood: We have a Phase II SBIR from the USDA. It is not tons of money but it is enough to reach some commercialization goals.
CEOCFO: What are you plans six months and a year from now?
Dr. Hood: The plan is to have two enzymes in the reagent market in six months and we are working with a paper manufacturer to utilize one of our enzymes in their process. If that shows efficacy, then we could be scaling up for a pulp and paper application.
CEOCFO: Why should investors look at Infinite Enzymes?
Dr. Hood: We are the low-cost enzyme producer that will enable the bio-fuels industry. We have believed that and worked on that angle for years but because we had so much trouble convincing people, we decided to go after these small markets first to give us some credibility. We will never be the only enzyme producer for the biofuels industry. We are producing bulk quantities of the rate-limiting enzymes that will lower the overall cost of the enzymes considerably. That is a big barrier in the biofuels industry. If somebody invests in us, it is going to be much less investment than if somebody invests in building physical infrastructure for producing enzymes in other ways.
CEOCFO: What might people not understand about Infinite Enzymes?
Dr. Hood: They might not understand our technology. It takes a great deal of explaining to figure out what it is technically that we do. The fact that we make genetically engineered organisms scares people off sometimes.
CEOCFO: How do you counteract negative feeling?
I try to be logical about the risks involved with our genetically engineered
corn. It is two-fold, the cellulases that we put into the corn are generally
recognized as safe (GRAS). When we grow this corn, it will be grown
completely isolated from food or feed corn but even if it is not, we believe
that we can achieve deregulation of the corn in a straightforward manner.
We are the low-cost enzyme producer that will enable the bio-fuels industry. - Elizabeth E. Hood
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