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BBGI Allots B83m for Biom Startup

BBGI Allots B83m for Biom Startup

New enzymes expected to keep chemical contaminants off vegetables and fruit

BBGI Plc, the biotechnology arm of Bangchak Corporation Plc, has injected 83 million baht into Biom Co, a startup spun off from Chulalongkorn University, in a move to commercialise new bio-based products that aim to alleviate decades-long concerns over contaminated vegetables and fruit in the Thai market.

The capital injection equals a 20% share in Biom, which was founded at the university’s Faculty of Science to be a startup specialising in studying and developing enzymes for a range of purposes.

BBGI recently signed an agreement with Biom to scale up its pilot production facility for commercial manufacturing.

Safer, Fresher Food

The deal gives BBGI the right to produce M Green and X10, Biom’s two major products expected to keep harmful contaminants away vegetables and fruit, as well as preserve their freshness for a longer period.

M Green is a cleaning enzyme that can degrade the structure of chemicals left on vegetables and fruit. It can detoxify chemicals that come from fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides.

X10 is a longevity enzyme capable of prolonging the shelf life of vegetables and fruit in supermarkets by 7-10 days.

Soaking newly harvested vegetables and fruit in water mixed with X10 can slow their change to a brown colour.

BBGI expects to debut the products around the middle of this year and plans to complete a production facility by the end of next year.

The factory, to be located in Chachoengsao province, will be developed under a contract development and manufacturing organisation concept to oversee the manufacturing process, said Kittiphong Limsuwannarot, chief executive of BBGI.

He believes the two products will draw huge interest from both sellers and buyers of vegetables and fruit, especially those who are concerned about contaminated food.

A survey of 509 fruits and vegetables sold nationwide, conducted by the Thai Pesticide Alert Network in 2020, found nine fruits and 18 vegetables contained more chemical residues than legally allowed.

According to the network, all the red grapes and jujubes it sampled for testing had more residue than the law allows. Samples of cherry tomatoes, bird’s eye chillies, red chillies, celery and Chinese kale also contained too much chemical residue.

The findings prompted the Agriculture Department to beef up its inspection of fruit and vegetables.

Department chief Pichet Wiriyapha said 50 produce and food items sold at modern trade stores received product standard certification from associations such as Organic Thailand and Q GAP.

If certified produce is found to have excessive residue, the department would inform local authorities as well as farmers who grow the produce.

Further Development

Biom also developed two bio-based products — P-Safe Test Kit and Alis, a new type of plant nutrient — which are slated for mass production.

P-Safe Test Kit is designed to examine traces of insecticide in the organophosphate category, which may be left on vegetables and fruits.

Organophosphates refer to a group of man-made chemicals that poison insects and mammals.

Alis is a bio-based substance that can increase nutrients in soil and accelerate the growth of plants.

Biom is the result of a Club Chula Spin-off programme that aimed to turn R&D projects at Chulalongkorn University into commercial products, said Chakkaphan Sutthirat, the university’s vice-president for research.

The number of startup spin-offs is expected to increase to more than 100 by the end of this year and they should be ready for investments from businesses, he said.

In the past, university researchers found it hard to continue developing their innovations into commercial products, said Mr Chakkaphan.

Their research findings often ended up being published in academic journals like Scopus and Nature.

Seeing a need to link scientific knowledge and manufacturing, Chulalongkorn University developed Club Chula Spin-off five years ago.

He expects startup spin-offs from this programme to help generate 50 billion baht in market value within five years.

Beyond Biofuels

BBGI intends to develop advanced biotechnology by commercialising value-added bio-based products after it spun off from Bangchak Corporation Plc in 2017 to focus on biofuel manufacturing.

The company plans to have earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation from new businesses make up half of total earnings within five years, up from zero at present, said Mr Kittiphong.

BBGI also joined hands with US-based biotechnology firm Manus Bio Inc to jointly establish Win Ingredients Co.

The new company is meant to serve as a springboard for Manus Bio, which runs a zero-calorie sweetener production facility in Augusta, Georgia.

The goal is expansion of the business into Asia, he said.

BBGI’s business expansion led it to raise funds under an initial public offering (IPO) programme last month.

Mr Kittiphong said earlier the firm expects to spend 4.54 billion baht from the IPO to develop high value-added bio-based products using synthetic biology.

This scientific field, also known as synbio, involves redesigning organisms for specific purposes by engineering them to have new abilities.

Source: The Bangkok Post

The sense of kinship and warmth found in the Chula community is priceless and a treasure worth keeping.

Prof. Dr. Pornanong Aramwit Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chulalongkorn University

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