Phycus: Who Said We Had to Put Crude Oil in That?

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Michael Fero

Hello! I’m one of the founders here at TeselaGen. I became a biotech convert when human genome was sequenced. I like surfing and “playing” guitar.
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A Conversation with Phycus Biotechnologies Co-Founder and CEO Vik Pandit

One of the aspects I love most about being at TeselaGen is that pretty much every day I get to interact with really smart people innovating in sometimes unimaginable ways. Phycus Biotechnologies, a start-up out of Toronto founded by Vik Pandit, PhD, and Christian Euler PhD, delivers on both counts.  

You may have seen the collaboration we announced with the company a few weeks ago. We are, of course, excited about the partnership. But what excites us even more is what is yet to come. To put it simply, Phycus is rethinking how we make the products we use every day – from cosmetics to tires to dishes. If we could make all of our things with sustainable chemical ingredients instead of crude oil, wouldn’t that be better – better for us, better for the environment? This is the passion – and the Big Idea – behind Phycus. 

To accomplish this, the company has developed a technology capable of recycling carbon dioxide and converting it into high-value, bio-based chemicals in an efficient way – offering a sustainable alternative to traditional chemical manufacturing and ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Impressed yet? Enough said.

We caught up with Phycus co-founder and CEO Vik Pandit, Ph.D., to learn more about the company, its first foray into cosmetics, its partnership with TeselaGen and its role in the circular economy. 

Q. What inspired you to start Phycus, and why begin with cosmetics? 

A. I had just finished my PhD, and I was interested in entrepreneurship. And I’ve always been excited about sustainable manufacturing and figuring out how to actually find alternative ways to make some products that reduce our carbon footprint. So after I completed my thesis, I figured this would be the best time in my life to give entrepreneurship a go and see if I could create something meaningful. We found that the personal care industry not only cares a lot about the environment, about the sustainability of the ingredients in the formulations, but that consumers are very knowledgeable about the products that they buy. Hence, we realized it was a place where we could have a big impact despite being a small company.

Q.  What role does Phycus play in the circular economy?  

Rethinking how as a society we can manufacture the chemicals that go into our everyday products is such an important mission for Phycus. The phrase “circular economy” captures that idea.  For us, in a very concrete way, it means that we try to produce chemicals today that are not made from CO2, but that if we could make them from CO2 efficiently and economically, then people and companies would want them. And we need help to be able to do that…we need a community. These are end customers, they are our value chain partners, they are our distributors and they are even our peers and service providers like TeselaGen that support us in our goals. 

Q. How did you decide to use TeselaGen and how are you using it?

As we start to grow, and we start to produce more and more genetic constructs faster, we needed a platform to help us organize and plan everything we do in the lab. From designing our metabolic pathways, to testing them and analyzing them after our fermentations are complete.  The TeselaGen platform helps us do all of that. It also helps us keep track of everything. Inventory and experimental management are exceptionally important to make continual progress towards your scientific objectives. One of the other great things is that it really helps us expedite the analysis of our data, which often come from a variety of sources. That’s why we decided to start to use TeselaGen.  

Q.  What is your vision for the company as you move from start-up to commercial scale?

I think several years from now we want to be a meaningful player in the circular economy. For us that means branching out of just the cosmetics space, and using our technology to produce all different kinds of chemicals and products from biobased sources instead of petroleum.  Our ecosystem is full of great companies that use synthetic biology and metabolic engineering to manufacture products. We want to be a part of helping our customers adopt sustainable chemical ingredients into the products they make.