Hyasynth Bio


Michelle LeBlanc


Hyasynth Bio

| Suitless #2 |

An interview with Hyasynth Bio Cofounders

Alex Campbell and Zach Wiltshire

Hyasynth Bio Alex Suitless

 How did Hyasynth Bio start?

Alex: Hyasynth started a few years ago when three of our cofounders met while working on masters degrees at Concordia University. Our studies were focused on yeast synthetic biology, and we were working on genetically modifying yeast to make different chemicals like drugs, biofuels, or plastics. We knew we had a unique education, so we began to question the ways we could use our expertise in an interesting way. At the same time, cannabis had recently become legal in the State of Colorado, and were people beginning to realise it’s potential. The science was in its infancy of understanding and there was expanding demand for pure cannabinoids for medical research. Together we realised we could use yeast as a platform to build these molecules in a very safe, efficient way. From this idea Hyasynth grew into what it is today.

Zach: This is also an exciting project for us since we’re the ones leading it. If we stayed in an academic or industry lab, we would always be working for someone else.

 Hyasynth Bio Mixer
What resources have been instrumental to launching this project?

Alex: Concordia University has been instrumental to our success in the help and support they have provided us with. In addition to our laboratory licensed to use cannabinoids, we’re currently working out of Concordia’s District 3 laboratory, which is a space for student entrepreneurs who are interested in developing startups. Access to this space has been key to a lot of our metabolic engineering work. It’s also been very helpful being near the Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology (CASB) and having access to the awesome synthetic biology community there. Experts like Dr. Vincent Martin and Dr. David Kwan have been really helpful in our scientific development and planning.

Zach: We also received fantastic help right at the beginning of this journey from the venture capital firm SOSV. We got into their biotechnology accelerator program, later we received follow-on seed money – with this funding we were able to hit the ground running.

What is the process of creating a yeast strain that produces cannabinoids?

Alex: In order to make our yeast strains, we start with the DNA from the cannabis plant that makes the molecules we want – for example THC or CBD. We have this DNA chemically synthesized and then introduce it into the yeast genome. Once we have this DNA in our yeast, it produces all of the enzymes necessary to make the active molecules of cannabis and we can brew these medical compounds without ever touching the plant at all.

Zach: So, we really end up with a little cellular factory instead of requiring a greenhouse or fields to grow the cannabis plant. We’re able to get a large quantity of the same chemical products made in a big tank. It is a lot easier to scale, and is a simpler system than working with plants.

So, we really end up with a little cellular factory.

Pipette Hyasynth Bio Suitless

Is there any specific reason you use yeast as a host?

Alex:  There are  a couple reasons why we use yeast. For starters, yeast is a model organism and is well understood scientifically, and easy to manipulate genetically. It’s also extremely easy to ferment and is a GRAS organism (generally regarded as safe,) making it a really attractive host to work with industrially. There’s also some more technical genetic/metabolic reasons yeast is a good host for this specific pathway but I won’t get into that here.

Hyasynth Bio Suitless Electrophroesis

What exactly are cannabinoids, and why are they important?

Zach: Cannabinoids are the active chemicals of the cannabis plant. The cannabis plant has been used for holistic medical purposes for a very long time. We’re seeing a lot of researchers starting to become more interested in their use again. The cannabinoids are being purified out of the plants and used for medical treatments for rare diseases. We are also seeing cannabinoid based treatments for things that are more common, like nausea or appetite loss when cancer patients are undergoing chemotherapy. There is a lot of potential with these chemicals – we are just beginning to unlock what they can do.

There is a lot of potential with these chemicals, and we are just beginning to unlock what they can do.

In which form do you see your final product?

Alex: Our final product is crystalline or oil based. In this state it can go to manufacturers and they can process it the way they need. There are a lot of potential delivery mechanisms for our product. It could easily end up in some type of edible, or in a trans-dermal strip etc.

What type of conditions could your final product be used to treat?

Zach: One of the medical conditions that has received a lot of media attention for cannabis based treatments is for Dravet Syndrome. With this disease, we see young children who can have hundreds of seizures a month. It has been found anecdotally, and through ongoing clinical trials, that if CBD (a cannabinoid) is provided it to a person with the disease, their seizures can reduce substantially – this is a big quality of life improvement.

There was still a lot of demand for things like pure cannabinoids for medical research.

HYasynth Bio Hallway D3

Zach: There are always mistakes that you make as an entrepreneur, or when trying to do something new on your own. No matter what advice you’re are getting, even if it’s the best advice, there are always going to be mistakes. Mistakes happen, and you just have to figure out how to run with them and continue to the next thing. But, you are always going to experience unexpected issues, that applies to the science, the fundraising, any of the business aspects. There are always going to be challenges.

Alex: You can’t get too cocky, there are always unknown-unknowns that pop up, no matter how well you think you know the area. You just have to put your nose to the grindstone and keep going.

There is always going to be mistakes that you make.

Hyasynth Bio Mixer

My name is  Alex Campbell, I’m a cofounder and the Chief Scientific Officer here at Hyasynth Bio. I work on strain engineering and am trying to get these strains to produce THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD (Cannabidiol), and many other cannabinoids. I do a lot of the ground work, such as setting up the genes, building the pathways, testing the strains, and also general troubleshooting.

My name is Zach Wiltshire, I’m one of the co-founders and Chief Operating Officer at Hyasynth. I also love to jump into our exciting science when I get the chance.




Video Director – Walid Kafi

Video Producer – Michelle LeBlanc

On Set Sound – Chris Bavota

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