5 Minutes With… Marco Mirata from Lonza
“Over the past decades, the field of biotechnology and especially synthetic biology has progressed tremendously.”
Lonza is a Swiss multinational, chemicals and biotechnology company, headquartered in Basel, with major facilities in Europe, North America and South Asia. With its long-standing expertise in the development, manufacturing and realisation of customised solutions, the SCS Segment of Lonza Specialty Ingredients is a reliable and secure partner. Lonza is the co-enabler with a touch of ‘Swissness’ in the biotech space from blue chips to start-ups to develop and commercialise new product ideas – especially for the very first time.
Here, Bio Market Insights’ Liz Gyekye catches up with Marco Mirata, Team Leader of Biotechnology at Lonza Speciality Ingredients.
Liz Gyekye (LG): What’s the story behind your company?
Marco Mirata (MM): Lonza was founded in 1897 in the Swiss Alps. The company started out producing electricity to manufacturing calcium carbide and acetylene. In the late 1970s, Lonza invented custom manufacturing as a new business model. This idea was mainly driven by the visionary ideas of Dr. Peter Pollak. During the 80’s and early 90’s, Lonza developed its own-patented biotechnological process for L-Carnitin, which paved the way to strengthen its activities in the industrial biotech sector. In 1992, Lonza expanded into Central Europe to Kourim, Czech Republic, with the acquisition of a biotech production facility. Today, the fermentation development and manufacturing services of Lonza represent a key pillar of our customer manufacturing business strategy to serve customers from various specialty ingredient markets.
LG: What were you working as before you became a team leader?
MM: Prior joining Lonza, I gained several years’ experience in academia and industry in the field of white biotechnology for the development of novel bio-based ingredients for flavour and fragrances, personal and health care, and agro markets. I graduated in biotechnology from the University of Applied Science in Sion (Switzerland) and hold a PhD in biological science from the Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main (Germany).
Fast forward to my current role, I am responsible for the bioprocess development activities within the Specialty Chemical Services department by Lonza Specialty Ingredients. My team is split between Switzerland for R&D and the Czech Republic, where our biotech piloting and manufacturing facility is located. Our core activities focus on providing support to customer projects at any stage of development such as evaluation, feasibility studies, process development and optimisation, and tech transfer into industrial manufacturing.
LG: What’s been the biggest challenge in growing the company?
MM: Over the past decades, the field of biotechnology and especially synthetic biology has progressed tremendously. This is especially the case when you look at its role in establishing new tools to develop microbial systems to produce bio-based ingredients, which were not accessible ten years ago. One of the biggest challenges that our customers are facing today is getting them ready to market and helping them to create value with the competitive advantages of their innovations. Therefore, they need a partner – not just a supplier who does the pure manufacturing. It needs a lot of experience and development work to find out the best way to upscale a completely new bio-based ingredient from lab to life, in order to make it commercially successful. This is why it is so important to work with our customers at an early stage, to design processes in order to enable a smooth transition to a successful market launch.
Talking about experience, over the last 45 years, we have offered more than 1000 unique solutions to our customers in various markets such as agro, feed and nutrition, personal care, technical application, etc.
LG: What’s coming up next for your company?
MM: Today, the speciality ingredient market shows clear trends towards consumer demand for biological or sustainable products. In contrast, the chemical industry is more and more under pressure to manufacture commercially competitive chemicals with a low ecological impact. In this space, biotechnology is not only an alternative to realise chemical products that are more natural and sustainable, but it also offers new ways to substances that were previously difficult or even impossible to access. Looking at recent developments, the examples of innovative ingredients derived by fermentation are flourishing: food proteins, prebiotics, flavours and fragrances. And, the latter list could be even longer.
We see more and more specialty chemicals companies using fermentation, looking at synthetic biology to produce and commercialise new products. This will continue to increase in the near future. At Lonza Specialty Ingredients we are experts in two worlds: chemistry and biotechnology. A very distinctive foundation to create magic combinations. With our CDMO services, we see ourselves as extremely credible co-enablers who are able to develop the biotech processes of the companies that we work with on an industrial scale to ensure a successful market launch.
LG: What advice would you give to someone else looking to launch their own company/product in this space?
MM: To try to cooperate and get more insight from companies like Lonza at an early stage of development. This will empower such companies to get guidance on the best way to develop their products in order to successfully take it from lab to life.