Prolific Machines, with a $55M Series B, shines ‘light’ on a better way to grow lab proteins for food and medicine

Prolific Machines, with a $55M Series B, shines ‘light’ on a better way to grow lab proteins for food and medicine

Two years ago, Prolific Machines unveiled its technology for a unique manufacturing approach to grow cells for industries, including cultivated meat. Today, the Emeryville, Calif.-based company said it’s ready to go to market with a bioreactor that will make that growth possible.

Deniz Kent, Max Huisman and Declan Jones started the company in 2020 to focus on more efficient and sustainable ways to manufacture food and medicine. This would involve growing and controlling cells without the need for expensive recombinant proteins for cell production.

The cellular biology processes of today are used to make everything from antibodies for immunotherapies to nutritional proteins found in infant formula. 

But the molecular methods are expensive (more expensive than a gram of gold). And they are hard to control. Kent gave an example of putting cream in coffee and it moving around randomly as it dissolves, meaning cells go where they want to go and when. And current methods are imprecise with the cell growth you get today may not be what you get tomorrow or a year from now, Kent said. In addition, cell growth is hard to optimize because it’s not in a format that machines can understand.

“For the last few decades, the way that we’ve been controlling cells is with molecules,” Kent said. “Those molecules could be chemicals or they could be proteins. We add these molecules into the bioreactors and hope for the best.”

Prolific Machines’ protein manufacturing bioreactor (Image credit: Prolific Machines)
Image Credits: Prolific Machines /

Prolific Machines believes it has a way of transitioning away from these molecules to something better: light. Light is used in many different applications today, from making food with microalgae, like what Brevel does, to detection of contamination, like what Spore.bio is doing.

Light solves most of those cell growth problems, Kent said. It’s a cheap commodity, you can put light where you want to go, you can turn it on and off as needed and light is the same today as it will be years from now. You can also split the light waves for use in different use cases. Plus, machines understand light because it is just electrons running in a circuit board going into an LED, Kent said. 

Prolific Machines’ bioreactors are ready for customers and will enable them to more efficiently biomanufacture high-value bioproducts, including nutritional proteins, antibodies to treat diseases and whole cuts of cultivated meat. 

The company is offering genetic tools, essentially strands of DNA that, with light, creates things like eliminating growth factors or turning one type of cell into another type of cell. It also offers cell lines, one bovine cell chassis for food applications, and one Cho cell chassis for pharmaceutical applications. Then there is hardware that puts light into the bioreactors and measures how that light interacts with the cell. Finally there is a software component with an algorithm that takes the spectral data and determines the best light pattern to apply. 

All this was made possible by $55 million in new Series B financing. The Series B is led by The Ki Tua Fund, the corporate venture arm of Fonterra Co-operative Group, with participation from a group including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Mayfield, SOSV, Shorewind Capital, Darco Capital, Conti Ventures and In-Q-Tel (IQT). It includes convertible notes and brings Prolific Machines’ total funding to date to $86.5 million. 

Kent intends to use the new funding on commercialization and customer acquisition.

“We’re now transitioning from having proved that this is working to giving this to people,” he said. “We started engaging with some commercial partners, but we are not going to announce that quite yet.”

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