Halifax-based 3D BioFibR Inc., only formed in July, has closed a $550,000 funding round that will launch its mission to produce commercial quantities of nature’s “strongest, lightest and toughest” materials.
The company is already distinguished by its co-founders. CEO Kevin Sullivan is a veteran of several life sciences companies and most recently founded Appili Therapeutics, leading it through its listing on the TSX Venture exchange. Chief Scientific Officer John Frampton, whose research laid the foundation for the company, is the Canada Research Chair in Biomaterials at Dalhousie University.
“Completing this seed round of investment provides us with a solid financial base from which we can accelerate our growth,” said Sullivan in a statement. “I am proud of the team we have built to date. With the addition of talented scientists and our R&D capacity, we are ramping up our ability to provide real solutions that address the growing need for advanced bio-composite materials that can fundamentally improve the world in which we live.”
Through his research at Dal, Frampton has improved methods of producing biofibres – which are fibres that exist in nature and are used by humans. They include spider silk (the threads spiders make for their webs), collagen (the main structural protein found in skin), and chitosan (a multi-purpose substance found in shellfish shells).
These materials already have a range of commercial applications in such markets as medicine, green textiles, aerospace and defense. Frampton’s methods allow them to be produced in industrial quantities at lower prices than what’s available now.
“Nature has evolved some of the most exquisite and advanced materials ever described,” said Frampton. “The physical, mechanical and chemical properties of these naturally occurring fibers could help solve many of the engineering challenges we face, but no one has been able to make these biofibers on an industrial scale using existing techniques such as electrospinning and wet spinning. Our 3D BioFibR team has solved the problem of making high quality biofibers using a proprietary, scalable process which is already at least 600 [times] more efficient than current technologies.”
3D BioFibR scientists have already demonstrated they can make collagen fibres, called CollaFibR, that are stronger than natural tendons, and spider silk that is tougher and 20 times more flexible than steel, said the statement.
In an email, Sullivan said the company’s first products will be in the biomedical space. It hopes to have its first products in the market in six to 12 months as they don’t require regulatory approval.
“The first is 3D tissue culture scaffolds made of fibrous collagen for the research industry,” he said, adding that 3D tissue culture is a $1.6 billion industry that is growing 15 to 20 percent annually. “Prototypes . . . have been shipped to collaborators and funding is focused on finalizing product development over the coming four to six months.”
The company, which is also working on an artificial tendon made of fibrous collagen, now employs six full-time employees and plans to hire more over the coming months.
In teaming up with Sullivan, Frampton has joined up with one of the leading life sciences executives in the region, who has raised tens of millions of dollars in capital for companies in Nova Scotia and Ontario. Sullivan was the guiding force behind Appili, an anti-infectious drug company, before leaving the company last December when Armand Balboni became its CEO. Appili, whose shares have risen 219 percent in the last year, now has a market value of $90 million and has moved to the main board of the Toronto Stock Exchange.
“3D BioFibR has an experienced team with scientific, industry, and business leadership,” said Lidija Marušić, life sciences investment manager at Innovacorp. “We have been following the progress of Dr. Frampton’s work for a few years now. With the recent technology advances his team has made, combined with their ability to attract seasoned executives to the opportunity, we are excited to help take their innovation to the global market.”