Startup spotlight: Pharyx

Pharyx is a recent microbioreactor startup spun out of Rajeev Ram’s group at MIT and founded by Harry Lee and Paolo Boccazzi. They’ve been around for a few years and won a Phase I SBIR grant in 2008 ($200,000) and Phase II award in 2009 ($750,000) to develop microbioreactors for biofuels.

Bioreactors are essentially tanks for keeping micro-organisms happy while they produce a substance of value (e.g., pharmaceuticals, biofuels, fermented foods [beer!], or other industrial products). To work, bioreactors must maintain carefully controlled conditions, including temperature, flow rate, pH, oxygenation, and more. Microbioreactors are miniature, microfluidic bioreactors that may enable bioprocesses to be designed and optimized faster and at lower cost due to smaller volumes, automation, and potential for parallelization.

There isn’t much information about Pharyx; they appear to be raising funds since they participated in the Early Stage Life Sciences Conference VII in April. From their company description in the conference program:

There is a need for automated parallel bioreactor systems that can execute complex, controlled bioprocesses to reduce development costs and timelines. To meet this need, we are developing a technology platform comprising microfluidic devices that are integrated to create bioreactors, with complex fluid control capability, in a disposable plastic device the size of a deck of cards.

Parallel bioreactor systems based on this platform can be customized and scaled for different applications including bioprocess development for biopharmaceuticals, biofuels, and industrial products; and basic research such as synthetic biology, metabolic engineering, and directed evolution that employ continuous culture experiments.

While Xconomy has listed Pharyx as an energy company, their platform could be applied much more broadly. It wouldn’t be surprising if Pharyx concentrated on energy for now (currently hot with investors) as opposed to pharmaceuticals (which some VCs are shying away from), but it’ll be interesting to see which markets they eventually end up in.

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