Seevix Material Sciences has developed a new kind of biopolymer material called SVX that is inspired by spider silk. When integrated into various materials SVX enhances their physical properties, enabling the development of sustainable, lighter, thinner, and tougher composites which can be used as building blocks for high-performance products.
The Israeli start-up, which was launched in 2014 and has raised around $18 million, emerged from research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem conducted by Israeli scientist Shmulik Ittah, Phd, who together with. Shlomzion Shen, PhD, co-founded Seevix. The resulting biopolymer is a unique material that self-assembles and is endowed with the superior natural properties of spider silk, says Shen, the company’s CEO.
It is a crowded field. More than a dozen other biotech companies are also trying to emulate spider silk, which is up to five times stronger than steel and extremely elastic. Shen says Seevix’s SVX is unique, due to its green self-assembly process, which mimics nature and does not seek to force component proteins to bind together with attendant weak links in the chain.
Seevix’s biopolymer material, which was developed by its team of biologists, chemists, and material engineers, can be used, inter alia, to produce resilient, yet biodegradable, sports shoes and other types of sportswear. The company, which has filed a large portfolio of patents, is working with ASICS, the giant Japanese multinational corporation, on its next generation of high-performance sustainable sportswear and sport shoes, says Shen. In addition to being a collaborator, ASICS is also an investor in Seevix.
The Israeli start-up is also targeting the beauty industry. Seevix’s SVX can be used to create vegan, eco-friendly, safe, highly effective skincare products. “It works like a second skin,” Shen says, acting as a barrier to ultraviolet rays and pollution. It also tightens and lifts skin while still providing elasticity of movement, she says. Hair products that integrate its material will also offer extraordinary heat protection, shape retention and color maintenance. What’s more, SVX can encapsulate and protect other ingredients in beauty product formulas and engineer their slow release, she says. The company is currently considering the best business model for its entry into this sector.
In Israel the government is providing grants to a consortium of companies, including Seevix, and academic institutions to advance the country’s burgeoning domestic cultivated meat industry. SVX will be used as a unique improved scaffold for growing and printing cells used to produce cultivated steak or fish.
Seevix is also in talks with companies in the automotive and aerospace industries as these sectors are looking for new materials that are green, lightweight, and high strength. “We can incorporate a small percentage of our material into the materials they are currently using to make them stronger, more eco-friendly but also better performing,” says Shen.
Competitors include Germany’s AmSilk, which was founded by Bayreuth University Professor Thomas Scheibel. Like Seevix the company, which has raised €54 million, is emulating spider silk to help corporates bring to market everything from new types of sports shoes to cosmetics. AMSilk has collaborated with Adidas to create a prototype of a biodegradable running shoe and with Ocean Pharma to create a new water-based, breathable nail polish.
US-based Kraig Biocraft Laboratories, a biotechnology research and development company involved in manufacturing advanced materials, has developed multiple types of polymers that incorporate its patented spider silk protein sequences. Inspidere,a Dutch startup produces synthetic spider silk composite materials for multiple industrial applications, including substitute leather in automotive vehicles. And Spiber Technologies, a biotech company based in Stockholm, which develops, produces, and commercializes products based on recombinant spider proteins. The main application areas it is targeting are in medical technology, primarily cell culture, including stem cells, and regenerative medicine.
Shen says Seevix’s technology has a key advantage. “Whereas other companies inspired by spider silk produce a single protein and use that to make a long fiber, our biological process has a different level of sophistication,” she says. “We cause 470,000 proteins to assemble spontaneously. This is our final product. It reduces time, cost, and the amount of energy needed to produce new materials and possesses extraordinary strength, elasticity, and chemical and temperature resilience.”