Earlier this year, CosmeticsDesign reported that biotech company Debut secured $34 million in Series B funding from vested partners, including L’Oreal’s venture capital fund BOLD. Earlier this month, the company announced that its latest Series B funding round, led by L’Oreal, had reached $40 million.
The company, which has previously focused on providing manufacturers of cosmetic and personal care products with novel ingredients utilizing its proprietary cell-free and advanced fermentation processes, will use some of the increased funding to expand into the fragrance category. To learn more about how Debut is pivoting into novel fragrance molecule development, how the company is working better to meet the needs of manufacturing companies in this sector, and the innovations made so far in the fragrance space, CosmeticsDesign-USA (CDU) interviewed Joshua Britton, the Founder and CEO of Debut for his insights.
CDU: How is Debut leveraging its proprietary biomanufacturing platform to develop bio-identical and novel fragrance molecules?
Joshua Britton (JB): The fragrance industry is at a critical juncture: on the one hand, the consumer drive for natural ingredients is unabating, and on the other hand, the pressure on the planet’s dwindling natural resources is unsustainable. Add to that the large petroleum-based palette of synthetic fragrance ingredients, much of which is under the threat of regulation, and you have a perfect fragrance storm in the making. Advanced biomanufacturing is the only solution that can scale at the level of consumption of the fragrance industry, producing natural ingredients at peak purity, quality, and safety and devoid of allergens.
Debut’s proprietary advanced biomanufacturing can make natural fragrance molecules that are not possible with fermentation or chemical synthesis. Using a combination of both cell and enzyme catalysis, we can create bio-identical and complex novel fragrance molecules with innovative and heightened performance.
Debut’s platform removes the need for the cell, thereby eliminating the slight odors that arise from fermentation. (These odors obviously make the fermentation process non-viable for fragrance). With cell-free technology, we can create beautiful, high-purity fragrance molecules with a sustainable and competitive edge over naturals and synthetics.
CDU: Why did Debut decide to invest its increased funding into expansion into fragrance development?
JB: Debut believes that we are on the cusp of a huge industrial transition in fragrance. Climate change is wreaking havoc with ingredient sourcing, quality, and price. High temperatures, drought, and unpredictable seasons impact crop and flower yields with devastating regularity.
Even floral scent emission is compromised by global warming. Research from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has shown that there is a correlation between rising temperatures and decreased scent emission of flowers. In the European Union, natural ingredients are at risk of regulation, threatening the industry at large.
Only Debut’s proprietary advanced biomanufacturing can solve these deep-seated problems. Having scaled biotechnology with 100 percent success in skincare and leading that category, we are addressing the fragrance industry’s urgent challenges, largely due to the number of inbound requests we have received. We knew that fragrance was our next big challenge, but we were surprised by the rapidity and volume of client requests.
In addition to securing precarious natural ingredient supply chains, companies and brands urgently want to transition chemical-laden fragrance formulas to bio-based formulas featuring bio-identical ingredients that mirror the olfactive signature of original formulas.
Companies are also asking Debut to create novel fragrance ingredients that elevate the perfumery palette to new levels of artistry and, in doing so, build an intellectual property moat around their creations. Even fragrance molecules that exist in trace amounts in nature can be replicated and scaled by our technology – without touching or disrupting nature.
Synthetic biology is clearly the only solution for fragrance. Biotech-enabled ingredients are sustainable, high-performing, consistent, safe, allergen-free, scalable, and cost-effective. I am so proud and excited to say that Debut is leading the industrial transition in the fragrance industry. So many companies want to join this biotech fragrance movement.
CDU: How is Debut working to meet the needs of fragrance manufacturers and to solve challenges faced by these industries regarding product formulation?
JB: In biotechnology, many companies simply focus on the science, the R&D lab part that makes the ingredients, but a much bigger infrastructure is needed to assure success. That’s why Debut has been a vertically integrated company right from the beginning. We are a product-forward company.
When companies work with Debut, we deliver the whole gamut from ingredient discovery to biomanufacturing, including screening, finding, and understanding the properties of molecules (such as how their fragrance evolves over time), ranking ingredients, maximizing ingredient performance in formulations, and creating novel claims backed by pre-clinical and clinical data. We know that companies come to us for products. That they will get cutting-edge science is a given.
CDU: What innovations have Debut made available in the fragrance space so far?
JB: Having closed more than $40M in additional Series B Funding in October, Debut is using the capital to accelerate our development of bio-identical and novel fragrance molecules and establish our fragrance model as the preeminent benchmark in the fragrance industry. Debut is already hard at work solving our clients’ toughest fragrance ingredient challenges.
We are working on replicating complex fragrance molecules that are found in cultivated sources, except instead of using land, water, and expensive and unsustainable inputs associated with cultivation, we use biology.
CDU: What are your plans for Debut to further innovate in the fragrance space?
JB: As a biotech beauty company with over 80 percent biologists, we are obsessed with the how and the why. When it comes to fragrance, we are studying how bioactive fragrance molecules interact with the brain to deliver an array of physiological effects, impacting mood and mental well-being.
Debut is aiming for nothing less than to reinvent the fragrance category by creating novel fragrance molecules with novel fragrance benefits, all backed by science. The days of spraying a fine fragrance simply to smell good will be replaced by high-performing formulas that can reset mood, quell anxiety, banish stress, and even induce feelings of optimism, all while being an absolute treat to the senses.
CDU: Anything else to add?
JB: Debut’s ability to leverage science to replicate the olfactive signature of molecules, including the rarest and most precious ingredients, is a breakthrough for the fragrance industry. Biotechnology is not just a win for sustainability; it is a game-changer for perfumers and creativity. Debut is just at the beginning of revolutionizing the potential of fragrance to inspire, elate, and satisfy consumers.