Commercializing Geltor’s animal-free collagen

Geltor is a Bay Area startup creating biodesigned protein ingredients.

As Geltor’s first hire, Monica Bhatia was faced with a difficult task: turn the company’s concept bioprocess into a commercially scalable technology in a short amount of time. 

Geltor didn’t yet have a laboratory space in which they could attempt to scale up their technology for creating biodesigned, animal-free collagen. ABPDU became their lab, and in a matter of years, Geltor was able to work with ABPDU to demonstrate proof of concept, on-board new techniques and commercialize their technology. 

“We went from a test tube to a 30,000 liter scale in a matter of three years of working with ABPDU.”

Monica Bhatia, Geltor

She credits much of this success to the relationship that was built between Geltor’s team and ABPDU’s team. 

“The collaboration between our teams was seamless. I’m always impressed by how committed the ABPDU team was to our project,” Bhatia said. “They paid close attention to our project and treated the process as if it was their own.”

At the time, ABPDU’s 50L fermenter fell short of meeting the industry standard for oxygen transfer rates — a key process parameter for aerobic fermentations. Bhatia said “ABPDU’s staff was not only open to discussing the issue, but also actively pursued upgrading the equipment to achieve the necessary functionality.” 

“We reached out to the equipment vendor and explored options to improve mass transfer rates,” said Jan-Philip (JP) Prahl, a Senior Process Engineer at the ABPDU and Project Lead on the Geltor collaboration. 

The two engineering teams evaluated a series of technical constraints — such as maximum allowable torque on the agitator shaft and required heat removal rates from the reactor — to identify the maximum achievable agitation speeds. They concluded that the specifications of the installed agitator motor allowed for a substantial load increase. 

“Being able to increase agitation from 300 to 600 rpm by making changes to the Variable Frequency Drive was an effective and non-invasive way to improve oxygen transfer rates in our 50L bioreactor,” Prahl said. As a result, the oxygen transfer rates are now on par with industry standards. 

The Geltor team acknowledged that one of the greatest benefits to them was their ability to use ABPDU’s equipment to test and validate their technology. Bhatia said the quality of both the equipment and the data gave them an early advantage in commercializing their product. 

“Whoever envisioned ABPDU’s facilities and operations was able to think through the needs of a future generation of biotech,” Bhatia said. “Coming to the ABPDU and knowing there was the ability to tinker with a variety of industrial equipment, pick the ones that apply best to our technology and create a synergy between Geltor, ABPDU as well as external vendors — right here in ABPDU’s pilot plant — turned the corner for us. Our time at ABPDU helped us create the toolkit of techniques we have needed for scale-up over the years.” 

Though Geltor has experimented at other facilities, Geltor’s team said the ABPDU set a high bar for quality.

“The ability to access the talent and equipment at ABPDU was a major reason Geltor decided to be located in the East Bay. That formed a relationship which helped to define our manufacturing trajectory and accelerate our growth as a company. I regularly point other startups to ABPDU to develop or test their pilot scale upstream and downstream technologies.”

Nick Ouzounov, co-founder and CTO of Geltor

As Geltor continues to grow, their portfolio of products is expanding from where they started with the ABPDU. They have aspirations to make products for the food and beverage industry — and are currently building their own pilot plant inspired by the ABPDU’s facility. 

“Even today, we look at the ABPDU as the best in class example of how you build a pilot plant,” Bhatia said.

Looking back, Bhatia sees Geltor’s strong relationship with the ABPDU as what started them on their path of success. 

“ABPDU had a huge role to play in Geltor’s commercial success,” she said. “Foundationally, we couldn’t have had a better start.” 

Photos courtesy of Geltor.