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Seattle biotech startup Lumen Bioscience raises $11.2M to develop drugs using algae

By Rachel Lerman Seattle Times

Spirulina, a blue-green algae, may have a use other than as an ingredient in “green” drinks or dietary supplements. A Seattle biotech startup hopes it could be the answer to a more accessible malaria vaccine.

Lumen Bioscience announced Tuesday it has raised $11.2 million from investors to continue developing its technology, which uses spirulina to make biologics – drug products that are created by genetically engineering living organisms.

Lumen was co-founded by former Adaptive Biotechnologies executive Brian Finrow and Jim Roberts, who previously directed Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center’s Basic Sciences Division. The pair believe they have found the first method to engineer spirulina to be used to create drugs.

Lumen will release its first product using the method next year: a protein used as a natural colorant by the food and cosmetics industries. That’s just the first step, Finrow said.

The startup is already working on a malaria vaccine that can be stored at higher temperatures than those currently available, making it easier to transport in warm climates.

Eventually, Lumen plans to license its spirulina technology to other companies that want to use the algae to create drugs.

The company launched in April and has 25 employees, bolstered by an early acquisition of another Seattle biotech startup, Matrix Genetics. That acquisition also helped Lumen secure a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Investors in Lumen’s first funding round include Avista Development and BioEconomy Capital.

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