Even if you cannot speak the language of chemistry, Capra Biosciences (Capra) co-founders Dr. Elizabeth Onderko and Dr. Andrew Magyar can make you laugh with the cartoon mole peeking out from the poster on their office wall. Yet this fun-loving professional friendship has quickly turned into boss moves in the bio-based chemical production sector.
Capra’s continuous-flow bioreactor technology changes the economics of making sustainable petrochemical replacements. Onderko invented the company’s bioreactor technology as a postdoctoral associate at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) along with her advisor Dr. Sarah Glaven, federal employee Dr. Matthew Yates, and Dr. Magyar.
After founding the company in 2020, Capra emerged from the competitive IndieBio program backed by SOSV. Originally located on a shared bench at the Prince William Science Accelerator, the company expanded into two lab spaces in the summer of 2022 and hired their first full-time employees while also participating in the Virginia Bio STEM2VA student internship program.
"Reaching this milestone is important because our production-scale reactor is modular,” said Magyar. “Much like a data center’s capacity grows as it adds individual hard drives, our platform’s ability to produce chemicals at scale grows with each bioreactor we add. This enables us to avoid many of the scale-up challenges experienced in traditional bioreactors.”
Capra’s first product is retinol, a highly lucrative cosmetic ingredient used in anti-aging products. Capra’s novel approach to retinol production uses biology rather than fossil fuels for production, unlike other products currently on the market. Early interest in their bioreactor model led to an oversubscribed pre-seed round in 2022, and the company continues to grow at a rapid pace.
"This partnership is a prime example for how fundamental research can be developed, matured, and successfully transitioned from NRL benchtop to commercial partner. The Technology Transfer Office often facilitates these types of efforts through various mechanisms which aim to incentivize businesses and bring forth investment capital," said Dr. Stephen Deese, NRL Partnership Manager.
Over the next year, Capra Biosciences is looking to expand to a pilot plant facility to scale up their retinol production. From there, they are excited to expand their product pipeline to include high performance lubricant base oils as they continue to grow.
Scaling Curiosity, from the Prince William County Department of Economic Development (PWCDED), is a life sciences video channel that explores the county’s more than 25-year history developing a bioscience hub at the heart of Innovation Park in Manassas, Virginia. This video essay explores the life cycle of life science companies, featuring real county businesses owners at all stages of growth.