Ukko, a biotech company that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to develop food and therapeutics that fight food allergies, announced today that it has raised a $40 million Series B round of funding. The round was led by Leaps by Bayer (the impact investment arm of Bayer), with participation from Continental Grain Company, PeakBridge Ventures, Skyviews Life Science and Fall Line Capital. Existing investors including Khosla Ventures and TIME Ventures, the investment fund of Marc Benioff, participated as well.
This brings the total amount of funding raised by Ukko to $47.7 million dollars. According to the press announcement, the new funding will allow Tel Aviv, Israel-based Ukko to enter into clinical trials for its investigational therapeutic for peanut allergies and, more relevant for our purposes, accelerate development of the company’s proprietary gluten.
Simply speaking, Ukko uses its AI platform to analyze patient data to map how an allergen triggers a reaction in the body. With that information, Ukko breaks down the gluten protein to its component level and gets rids of the bad parts that cause allergic reactions. It keeps the good parts. Ukko then creates this new good gluten either by genetically modifying wheat plants or fermenting yeast (or some other applicable base cell) to grow it in a bioreactor.
The result, Ukko Co-Founder and CEO Anat Binur told me by phone this week, is a gluten that stretches and bakes and has all the biophysical aspects of gluten, and can be eaten by people with gluten sensitivities and celiac disease. This, in turn, means that gluten-sensitive people don’t need to sacrifice quality when enjoying different types of baked goods.
At least, that’s the plan. Binur said that some of the company’s new funds will go towards clinical trials of its gluten and getting the product through all the safety protocols and to the point of commercialization.
Once Ukko’s gluten reaches the commercialization stage, Binur said that there are a number of options for how it comes to market. Ukko could sell its own gluten, which could be added to gluten-free starches (like almonds or rice). Alternatively, the company could sell its own gluten flour as an ingredient to food companies and restaurants/bakeries, or create its own line of branded gluten-free flour to be sold on store shelves. Or Ukko could pursue some combination of all three.
By one estimate from Grand View Research, the gluten-free products market was valued at $21.61 billion in 2019, and projected to grow at a CAGR of 9.2 percent through 2027. So there is plenty of market opportunity just in gluten for Ukko.
But Ukko’s platform can be applied to any food allergy. As noted, the company is developing therapuetics for peanut allergies, but Ukko’s tech could be used for dairy allergies, soy allergies, egg allergies, etc. Creating replacement foods from the ground up that have the same nutrition and behave like the original could help alleviate a lot of sickness and save lives.