From connective tissue, skin health, lunchroom JELLO, and your inner ear to injections to create fuller lips, collagen is one of a body’s vital chameleons. Until now, the best way to introduce this protein to your everyday health is by eating animal products or substitutes such as Keratin and other amino acid supplements.
Raleigh-based Jellatech has announced the development of a full-length, triple-helical, and functional collagen made from their own proprietary cell lines. Others have worked on a solution to create lab-based collagen, but Jellatech’s stands alone as bio-identical to the animal-based variety.
In a recent interview with The Spoon, Stephanie Michelsen, Jellatech CEO, explained that, like others wanting to make an impact in the alt-protein space, she looked for a white space that was undeveloped and in need of a solution.
“I came across collagen and its roots and gelatin because it’s a unique protein only found in animals. And we use it for such, I mean, a crazy number of different applications,” Michelsen said. “So, I saw it’s going to be a future problem, so let’s try to solve it using cellular agriculture.”
Jellatech’s process differs from the fermentation approach to building alternative proteins. “It’s not fermentation because fermentation is more like yeast or bacteria using big vats,” Michelsen explained. “We use mammalian cells and those cells, so in that way, it’s different.”
Given its role in health and pharma, it’s no surprise the global collagen market size was valued at USD 8.36 billion in 2020, according to Grandview Research. It’s a space that is precited to grow at a 9.0% rate from 2020 to 2028, and much of that growth comes from increasing demand from the cosmetics markets. With that in mind, Michelsen sees pharma as low-hanging fruit and why taking the business-to-business approach is the best way to start.
Rob Schutte, Head of Science for Jellatch, emphasizes that what gives his company an advantage over possible competitors is the two years’ worth of work they put in to build a perfect collagen replica. “We’re thrilled to see that our cell-derived collagen appears bio-identical to collagen derived from animals. Because of this, we have a wide range of exciting applications from biomedicine to cosmetics to food and beverage.”
Jellatech will face the same issues as other companies creating either plant-based or cell-based proteins—cost. The number of bioreactors and the infrastructure to support a complex process can be enormous to build at scale. Without being specific, Michelsen believes that smart growth and innovation can play a crucial role in managing capital expenses.
We hope to do some innovation on our own to try to drive those costs down,” she said. “It’s true; there’s there are a lot of steps to get there. We are soon moving into the pilot and commercial-scale sometime after that. But, you know, I think there are a lot of avenues to explore to be able to cut those costs down.”