Prozymi Biolabs

Ioannis Stasinopoulos and Andreas Andreou tapped into expertise at the University of Edinburgh Venture Builder Incubator to help them develop their enzyme business, Prozymi Biolabs.

The challenge

When synthetic biologist Dr Andreas Andreou first tried gluten-free bread, he was shocked at how bad it tasted and horrified at how much it cost. He found that the breads were dense and unnaturally crumbly, with really unpleasant textures.

That’s because the gluten-free market is dominated by breads made from gluten-free ingredients – such as rice flour, potato starch and tapioca starch – rather than traditional wheat flour. Using gluten-free flours and starches also means gluten-free breads tend to be less nutritious, with lower levels of proteins and nutrients and higher levels of salt.

Demand for gluten-free products continues to grow – the global gluten-free market was worth about $5.6 billion in 2020, and it is projected to reach nearly $8.3 billion by 2025, with the gluten-free segment of the UK baking industry alone growing by 44% in 2020-21. Improving the taste and texture of gluten-free bread would not only give consumers more pleasure but could also create an economic opportunity.

The solution

Andreas set out to create gluten-free bread with a great taste and a great texture. He teamed up with fellow keen baker Dr Ioannis Stasinopoulos, who has a doctorate in biomedical sciences from the University of Edinburgh, and together they founded Prozymi Biolabs in 2021.

Prozymi has created a set of enzymes that can break down the “bad” gluten – gliadin – to detoxify wheat dough and potentially wheat flour too. Being able to remove gliadin from flour would mean that gluten-free breads could be made from wheat, barley, rye, and other popular grains.

Making gluten-free bread from a wider selection of grains would expand the number of choices for people with Coeliac disease, an autoimmune disorder that means a person’s body can’t tolerate the gliadin in gluten. Some other people are sensitive to gluten and so choose to eat gluten-free foods.

How VBI Helped?

Prozymi joined the fourth cohort of companies at the University of Edinburgh Venture Builder Incubator (VBI) in the autumn of 2023. The four-month programme has helped the business to develop its financial plans and consider how it will address regulatory and other legal requirements.

“The support we’ve received from VBI has gone deeper and lasted longer than shorter accelerator programmes,” explained Ioannis. “As an incubator programme, VBI gives academics with promising ideas or young companies the space and the time to explore markets and work out their way forward.

“The mentorship through VBI has been fantastic and it’s given us access to a wide network of contacts – not just investors but people working in industry too, who are interested in our idea and who could become potential collaborators or customers. A couple of investors have already approached us, having heard about us through the exposure we’ve had as part of VBI.”

That exposure now extends to the national business media, with an article focusing on the company’s innovative solution running in Scottish Business Insider in April 2024.

What's next

A key step on Prozymi’s journey will be to prove its enzymes can reduce the amount of gluten present in a product to fewer than 20 parts per million (PPM) in order to meet the UK’s labelling laws that regulate the phrase “gluten-free”. The company is currently carrying out work to try to increase its enzymes’ activity.

Its next steps will be to create a minimum viable product and then make a proof-of-concept batch. Once it has a working product then it will be time to scale-up the business and continue the conversations that it’s already started with potential customers in the bakery market.

So far, Prozymi has raised around £350,000 through research grants and other funding, including through Innovate UK and Scottish Enterprise’s Smart Scotland grant scheme. Later this year [2024] or next year, [2025] it will launch an investment round.

Get in touch!

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Prozymi Biolabs