At a time when 90% of marine resources are already being exploited beyond their capacity for renewal, a real challenge is needed: to develop a new source of responsible omega-3. Year after year, we see a depletion of wild fish populations that are sources of omega-3; this is a huge problem in the face of the growing needs of a growing humanity.
Faced with this reality, Hugo Weidmann and his team decided to embark on the Microfit project. This biotech start-up project aims to produce long-chain omega-3s in a sustainable way. These omega-3s are a family of fatty acids that are essential for humans and animals. They are essential for the development and proper functioning of the human body, but the body does not know how to produce them.
As winners of the Student Innovation Day 2021, a national competition open to all students in the country and organised by the Young Entrepreneurship Society, they were awarded as one of the best student start-ups. As part of this event, they were awarded a prize by the X entrepreneurship centre, a partner of the event.
A study project turned into a business creation
The choice of subject was the result of a course project between Hugo Weidmann, Aubry d'Andoque de Sériège and Antoine Rousset, three students in the X-HEC entrepreneurial master's programme. They first worked on a project that aimed to use analyses of the intestinal microbiome to find a probiotic solution to obesity. The difficulty of collecting a sufficient volume of data encouraged them to focus on another pathology: chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It was during a publication on a trial of omega-3 supplementation for IBD patients that they became interested in their benefits. They then discovered the issues surrounding omega-3s in terms of overfishing and industrial outlets. They then had an idea: to synthesise omega-3s from fast-growing bacteria.
Alix d'Archimbaud, a Master's student in Biology and Health, joined the team as CTO. With her knowledge of bioengineering, she isolated the gene sequences responsible for omega-3 synthesis in a marine bacterium and developed the appropriate plasmids with the help of a professor from the École polytechnique.
The team, which is multidisciplinary and passionate about microbiology, will soon begin the laboratory experimentation phase.
What does this mean in practice?
The process is simple: to use synthetic biology, which aims to design, reproduce or modify biological systems, for the responsible production of omega-3. The work focuses on the genes for the synthesis of EPA and DHA, two polyunsaturated fatty acids with recognised virtues in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, immunity, maintenance of vision and cognitive development. These genes are transferred to non-pathogenic bacterial strains of high productivity, bacteria that reproduce at high speed without causing disease. The omega-3s produced, extracted and purified, therefore come from GMO bacteria. However, the final product, an oil rich in omega-3, is free of GMO residues.
Within 18 months to 2 years, the team wants to offer food supplements for humans in order to enter the pharmaceutical market. Due to regulatory constraints, the first segment targeted will be aquaculture and then develop towards agri-food groups for animal feed.
"Working on a deeptech project is an extremely formative experience, despite the uncertainties. Being lucky enough to find the right people encourages us to push as far as we can" Hugo Weidmann, CEO of Microfit
Advice from entrepreneurs to entrepreneurs?
The ecosystems of the École polytechnique and HEC are a particularly important resource for Microfit. The X-HEC Entrepreneurs double degree has allowed the team to strengthen their technical knowledge and skills, as well as their business skills. Surrounding ourselves with scientific experts via the Polytechnique ecosystem as well as on a more entrepreneurial aspect thanks to HEC is key to the rapid start of the laboratory experiments, as well as to the eventual deployment on the market.
The team's advice? Know how to surround yourself with people, create a close-knit team and dare to launch yourself.