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29 April, 2020 - 17:01 By Tony Quested

Cambridge professor’s latest spin-out aims to reduce microplastic pollution

Cambridge University spin-out, Xampla, dedicated to reduce microplastic pollution, has raised £2 million seed funding. 

The round was co-led by the university’s commercialisation arm Cambridge Enterprise and global technology investor Amadeus Capital Partners – co-founded by Hermann Hauser – with participation from Sky media group’s impact investment fund Sky Ocean Ventures and the University of Cambridge Enterprise Fund VI, managed by Parkwalk.

Xampla is developing the world’s first plant protein-based replacement for microplastics added to everyday items. The funding will enable the startup to develop its prototype material into products. 

Its initial target is the $12 billion microencapsulation market in which manufacturers of home and personal care products currently rely on synthetic polymer capsules, a usage the EU is considering banning.

Dr Elaine Loukes, Investment Director, Cambridge Enterprise, said: “Xampla has come up with a remarkable alternative to plastic. The fabrication process mimics those used by nature and the product is entirely made from natural materials. We are very pleased to be supporting a company with the potential for tremendous beneficial impact.”

Unlike current alternatives to microplastics, which are based on plant polysaccharides, such as cellulose and algae, Xampla’s plant protein materials do not rely on chemical cross-linking for their performance. This enables them to decompose quickly and completely in the natural environment.

Amelia Armour, Principal, Amadeus Capital Partners, said: “Xampla is a great example of deep tech emerging from the UK research base at exactly the right time to respond to regulatory changes and consumer trends around plastic. 

“We’re excited to be investing alongside an impact investor and backing a world-class science team that can offer commercial solutions for multiple industries.”

In proposing regulations on added microplastics, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) found that each year in Europe added microplastics equivalent to 10 billion plastic bottles were released into the environment and were practically impossible to remove.

Simon Hombersley, Xampla CEO, explained: “Our mission is to reduce the impact of single-use plastic, and our initial commercial focus is on intentionally-added microplastics.

“With our new plant protein material, we are committed to helping manufacturers make the transition from traditional plastics to high performance alternatives that protect the planet.”

The creation of the new material stems from a breakthrough from protein experts Professor Tuomas Knowles – a prolific founder of great tech companies from the UK – and Dr Marc Rodriguez-Garcia, inspired by the process a spider uses to create silk. 

Xampla facilitates a similar transformation at scale and in a very efficient process by using widely-available and renewable plant proteins, without the need for harmful solvents. 

The resulting Supramolecular Engineered Protein can be structured into plastic-like materials such as films, gels and capsules. Xampla holds two patents for the new material, with a third in development.

The scale of the potential economic impact of the EU’s proposed restriction can be seen in data submitted by the industry to the ECHA’s stakeholder workshop. 

For example, Cosmetics Europe, the trade body representing the European cosmetics and personal care industry, stated that a restriction of microplastics in both rinse-off and leave-on products would affect 24,172 formulations, resulting in loss of revenue for the industry of 12.2 billion euros per year.

Professor Knowles has already spun Fluidic Analytics and Wren Therapeutics out of his laboratory at the University of Cambridge.

Fluidic Analytics raised $31 million in 2018 to continue developing its transformational products for characterising proteins and their behaviour. The financing was led by Draper Esprit, a pan-European venture capital fund that invests in disruptive technology companies at the early and growth stages. Joining the round as new investors were Delin Ventures and BGF, making its largest life-sciences investment to date and first in Cambridge. IQ Capital and Amadeus Capital Partners also joined Draper Esprit in backing Fluidic for a third successive time since the company’s first financing in 2015.

Wren Therapeutics was founded in 2016 – a spin-off company from the University of Cambridge and Lund University in Sweden. It is focused on drug discovery and development for protein misfolding diseases.The company was founded by Proessor Knowles, Sir Chris Dobson, Michele Vendruscolo, Sam Cohen, Sara Linse and Johnny Habchi. It raised £18m in January 2019 from an international syndicate led by The Baupost Group with participation from LifeForce Capital and a number of private investors. 

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