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KGI Alumni-Founded Startup Machine Bio Selected to Participate in BioTools Innovator Accelerator Program

Machine Bio, an early-stage biotechnology company, founded by Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) alumni Alexander Hilbert, MBS ‘19, and David Marash, MSBRD ‘19, has been selected to participate in the BioTools Innovator inaugural three-month virtual mentorship-focused Accelerator program. BioTools Innovator is a new program from MedTech Innovator focused on accelerating life science tools and diagnostics.

Along with 10 other leading-edge biotech startups across the U.S. and Europe who were chosen from among several hundred applicants, Machine Bio will receive in-depth, customized mentorship and support from senior industry leaders. The program will culminate in a final competition on October 15 in Carlsbad, CA, where finalists will compete for up to $200,000 in non-dilutive cash prizes.

BioTools’ program’s main goal is to solve unmet needs in the medical industry, developing solutions for cell research, genomics, data and informatics, and synthetic biology. Machine Bio’s mission aligns with this goal: The team is developing a novel, proprietary protein synthesis platform that can produce pure protein from a DNA template in an easy-to-use, standalone unit operation in four hours or less.

Proteins have many uses for many industries, including drug development, synthetic and molecular biology research, industrial enzyme production and optimization, and therapeutic manufacturing. However, protein production is expensive and time-consuming as even after the protein is synthesized, it must undergo extensive purification to be used.

Traditional synthesis can take four to seven days. At the same time, purification, which includes half a dozen labor-intensive downstream unit operations, adds another one to seven days and can account for 50% or more of total manufacturing costs.

Machine Bio offers a solution in the form of the Trans-Membrane Synthesis (TMS) platform, which eliminates the purification process by starting with pure protein from a single unit operation, reducing the production time to a matter of hours or even minutes.

“This is going to really minimize facilities, making bioprocessing cheaper and reducing the footprint,” Marash, CEO and Head of Scientific Development for Machine Bio, said. “It’s also going to make bioprocessing more accessible. More companies can enter the industry, and distributed bioprocessing in developing countries can become a viable reality.”

An additional benefit offered by the TMS platform is improved control over product quality as direct biochemical manipulation of protein folding enables difficult-to-express products and novel protein design strategies.

Marash and Hilbert, Machine Bio’s Head of Product and Business Development, had been brainstorming various business ideas during their time together at KGI. It wasn’t until right after their graduation rehearsal, though, that they formulated an idea that seemed tenable.

“While we were hanging out at my place, Alexander saw this little sketch on the wall and asked me what it was,” Marash said.

Though Marash intended to develop the idea for commercialization, Hilbert—being well-versed in the applicability of business ideas as a result of his education in KGI’s Master of Business and Science program—was able to envision a more viable, actionable, and clear path for turning the technology concept into a marketable product.

“David explained the idea to me, and I thought, ‘Wow, this sounds like something we could actually do within the next few years,'” Hilbert said.

Marash and Hilbert—along with KGI alumnus Eric Benjamins, MBS ’19—convened as a founding team to determine the best way to move forward.

“Eric ended up taking a job in the industry and stepping back from the main founders’ responsibilities, but he was our first and earliest investor, and he has continued to invest throughout,” Hilbert said. “It’s because of him that all this has been possible.”

Hilbert brought on a friend from his undergraduate education, Naman Shah—who had since obtained an MBA in Project Management—to handle the business-oriented operations in Machine Bio such as data analytics and management. Marash—who entered KGI’s Master of Engineering in Biopharmaceutical Processing program before switching to the Master of Science in Biopharmaceutical Research and Development—is heavily involved in the lab work, while Hilbert bridges the gap between the business and science aspects of the company.

Marash and Hilbert are excited to continue their development in the BioTools Innovator Accelerator program.

“Biotech tools are a very important part of the industry but still don’t get a lot of attention,” Hilbert said. “So this program will provide us with the specialized mentorship and connections we need to keep growing and maturing.”

Machine Bio’s goal is to leverage the guidance of industry leaders with decades of experience to determine the best method for developing their tool.

“The tool we’re making is very simple, but the way that people are going to use it will not be simple because there are so many different applications for proteins along with different types of workflows,” Marash said.

Machine Bio has already been picking up traction in fundraising, so the program will help them continue the positive momentum.

“We’re now in a completely different place than we were a year ago,” Marash said. “KGI as an institution has supported us so much from the start, giving us access to lab space and brilliant student interns. In those early stages when money isn’t as easy to come by, having that support has really made all the difference.”

Hilbert feels that KGI has opened him up to all the potential avenues within biotech.

“Before I went to KGI, I didn’t even know that the industry existed in the way that it does,” Hilbert said. “I was just going to be a professor. KGI really exposed me to a lot of interesting and unique opportunities through projects where you actually work with real companies.”

For Marash, KGI provided him with a detailed understanding of bioprocessing and taught him how to formulate practical ideas.

“My ideas have gotten progressively less pie-in-the-sky and more realistic over time,” Marash said. “I’ve learned how to then put these ideas into practice, taking one step at a time. I’m extremely grateful for everything the KGI community has done to help us get to where we are, and we’re excited to keep this relationship strong and make good use of KGI’s excellent talent pipeline.”