GreenLight Biosciences aims at a revolution in the chemical industry
Don Seiffert, BioFlash Editor-Boston Business Journal

MARCH 17, 2014, 2:12pm EDT - Andrey Zarur, CEO and co-founder of GreenLight Biosciences, said, "I see a world where GreenLight is a public company and we provide chemicals to the whole pharmaceutical, agricultural and energy industry."

As head of a 20-employee biotech firm in Medford, Andrey Zarur thinks big. Really big.

Zarur, CEO and co-founder of GreenLight Biosciences, envisions his company as a potential solution for the world's enormous chemical industry to stop polluting the environment through the production of chemicals for fuel, agriculture, drugs or nutrition.

"What really matters is water, food, energy and health. Everything else, we can do without," he said.

Zarur, a former member of the investment team at Kodiak Venture Partners who lives in Winchester, says his company is founded on a way of creating non-petroleum based molecules using natural processes. It was developed over the course of two decades at Stanford University by professor James Swartz. Called cell-free bioprocessing, the technology, produces chemicals used in a wide variety of industries which totals between $3 trillion and $4 trillion dollars a year.

"It's a massive, massive industry," he said.

Zarur says GreenLight's technology, which is applicable to about half of that market, works like this: The overwhelming majority of chemical manufacturing is done through non-natural means by giants like DuPontand Dow Chemicals, resulting in pollution from solvents and other byproducts. Natural production of the same or similar chemicals - the focus of companies like San Diego, Calif.-based Genomatica - is very inefficient and costly, in part because of the difficulty in keeping cells alive while they produce chemicals.

"Ideally, you'd use natural processes to produce the same chemicals, at a lower price," he said, and GreenLight's so-called cell-free bioprocessing method is aimed at doing just that. It uses enzymes in dead - rather than living - cells through a proprietary method of providing the enzymes with enough energy (i.e., carbon) to keep them going. The process is more efficient than current methods of natural production, and is environmentally-friendly. The platform is reusable, meaning the same enzymes solution can be used multiple times, and can be used to make chemicals such as antibodies which can't be made using living cells, he said.

The technology has four main applications which GreenLight is pursuing simultaneously: biofuels, agriculture, nutrition and pharmaceuticals. Last week, the company announced a new collaboration with Bayer CropScience ¬- the agricultural arm of the drug giant - for chemicals used as fertilizers and crop protectants.

Under a previous $4.5 million contract under the federal Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, GreenLight is trying to find a way to use the carbon produced in methane (a by-product of fracking) to make fuel. It also has an undisclosed collaboration in the pharmaceutical industry, which he said has been looking for ways top become more environmentally-friendly for years.

Greenlight, which was founded in 2008 with funding from Kodiak, received a $7 million Series B round of financing led by Menlo Park, Calif.-based Khosla Ventures last August. Zarur said that he plans to grow to between 30 and 40 employees by the end of the year, and much bigger in years beyond that.

"I see a world where GreenLight is a public company and we provide chemicals to the whole pharmaceutical, agricultural and energy industry," he said. "That's the 20-year plan."

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About GreenLight Biosciences
GreenLight Biosciences is a privately-held biotechnology company focused on improving human health and the environment through the sustainable production of chemicals and fuels from renewable, non-petroleum based resources. Using its Unconstrained Metabolism® technology platform, which leverages proprietary breakthroughs in the production of cell-free biological processes, GreenLight discovers and develops clean, sustainable and economical chemicals. These chemicals serve as the basis for the creation of raw materials that have vast potential to increase access to healthier and more natural consumer products, primarily in nutrition, biopharmaceuticals, and agriculture, and in providing promising new energy options for our future. GreenLight Biosciences headquarters is located in Medford, MA. For more information, visit