This Biotech Startup Just Raised $255 Million To Make Its AI-Designed Drug A Reality

Science technology concept. Research and Development. Drug discovery.

While many AI biotech companies are on journeys to discover new drug targets, Hong Kong-based Insilico Medicine is a step ahead. The startup not only scouts for new drug sites using its AI and deep learning platforms but also develops novel molecules to target them.

In February, the company announced the discovery of a new drug target for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a disease in which air sacs of the lungs get scarred, leading to breathing difficulties. Using information about the site, it developed potential drug targets. The startup recently raised $255 million in series C funding, taking its total to $310 million. The round was led by private equity firm Warburg Pincus. Insilico will use the funds to start human clinical trials, initiate multiple new programs for novel and difficult targets, and further develop its AI and drug discovery capabilities.

The company has stiff competition in the industry of using AI to discover new drugs. The global AI in Drug Discovery market was valued at $230 million in 2021 and is projected to reach a market value of over $4 billion  by 2031, according to a report from Vision Gain. The area has already minted at least one billionaire, Carl Hansen of AbCellera, and others have also gained attention from investors. Flagship Pioneering-backed Valo Health announced this month it’s going public via SPAC.

Investors said that Insilico’s AI technology and partnerships with leading pharmaceuticals attracted them to the startup, despite the crowded field. “Insilico fits strongly with our strategy of investing in the best-in-class innovators in the healthcare,” said Fred Hassan of Warburg Pincus, “Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is a powerful tool to revolutionize the drug discovery process and bring life-changing therapies to patients faster than ever before, he added.

CEO and founder Alex Zhavoronkov got his start in computer science, but his interest in research into slowing down aging drew him to the world of biotech. He received his Masters from Johns Hopkins and then got a PhD from Moscow State University, where his research focused on using machine learning to look at the physics of molecular interactions in biological systems.

The process for finding a preclinical target for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis highlights Insilico’s approach. The company had initially found 20 new target sites to treat fibrosis. Then it used its machine learning processes to narrow those down to a specific target which is implicated in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Then using its in-house tool, Chemistry42, it generated novel molecules to target the new site. The new preclinical drug candidate was found efficacious and safe in mice studies, the company said in a press release. 

“Now we have successfully linked both biology and chemistry and nominated the preclinical candidate for a novel target, with the intention of taking it into human clinical trials, which is orders of magnitude more complex and more risky problem to solve,” Zhavoronkov added in a statement.

Treatments for this condition are a dire need. Patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis develop respiratory failure as their blood doesn’t receive adequate oxygen. Most patients die within two to three years of developing the condition. If the company’s drug candidate proves out during clinical trials, it would be a major step forward both for these patients and the industry as a whole.

“To my knowledge this is the first case where AI identified a novel target and designed a preclinical candidate for a very broad disease indication,” Zhavoronkov said in a statement.

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I am a New York based health and science reporter and a graduate from Columbia’s School of Journalism with a master’s in science and health reporting. I write on infectious diseases, global health, gene editing tools, intersection of public health and global warming. Previously, I worked as a health reporter in Mumbai, India, with the Hindustan Times, a daily newspaper where I extensively reported on drug resistant infections such as tuberculosis, leprosy and HIV. I also reported stories on medical malpractice, latest medical innovations and public health policies.

I have a master’s in biochemistry and a bachelor’s  degree in zoology. My experience of working in a molecular and a cell biology laboratory helped me see science from researcher’s eye. In 2018 I won the EurekAlert! Fellowships for International Science Reporters. My Twitter account @aayushipratap

Source: This Biotech Startup Just Raised $255 Million To Make Its AI-Designed Drug A Reality

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Critics:

CEO Alex Zhavoronkov founded Insilico Medicine in 2014, as an alternative to animal testing for research and development programs in the pharmaceutical industry. By using artificial intelligence and deep-learning techniques, Insilico is able to analyze how a compound will affect cells and what drugs can be used to treat the cells in addition to possible side effects. Through its Pharma.AI division, the company provides machine learning services to different pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and skin care companies. Insilico is known for hiring mainly through hackathons such as their own MolHack online hackathon.

The company has multiple collaborations in the applications of next-generation artificial intelligence technologies such as the generative adversarial networks (GANs) and reinforcement learning to the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. In conjunction with Alan Aspuru-Guzik‘s group at Harvard, they have published a journal article about an improved GAN architecture for molecular generation which combines GANs, reinforcement learning, and a differentiable neural computer.

In 2017, Insilico was named one of the Top 5 AI companies by NVIDIA for its potential for social impact. Insilico has R&D resources in Belgium, Russia, and the UK and hires talent through hackathons and other local competitions. In 2017, Insilico had raised $8.26 million in funding from investors including Deep Knowledge Ventures, JHU A-Level Capital, Jim Mellon, and Juvenescence. In 2019 it raised another $37 million from Fidelity Investments, Eight Roads Ventures, Qiming Venture Partners, WuXi AppTec, Baidu, Sinovation, Lilly Asia Ventures, Pavilion Capital, BOLD Capital, and other investors.

In An Earth Day Test For Synthetic Biology Field, Zymergen Raises $500 Million In IPO

Zymergen's Hyaline optical film is made with biology not petrochemicals.

The past few years have been boom times for synthetic biology. Today, in a big test for public markets’ appetite for the emerging field, Zymergen raised $500 million in an initial public offering set to value the company at more than $3 billion.

“I love the symbolism that we’re going public on Earth Day,” cofounder and CEO Josh Hoffman told Forbes in a morning video call. “There’s a bit of luck there, but I’m just super pleased. It is really cool.”

Hoffman, 50, a former McKinsey consultant and Rothschild merchant banker, founded Zymergen in 2013 with two former Amyris execs, Zach Serber, 46, now chief science officer, and Jed Dean, 43, now vp of of operations and engineering. They named it Zymergen as a mash-up of the words zymurgy (the study of fermentation), merge and genomics. Based in Emeryville, California, a hotspot for biology startups, the company’s scientists ferment molecules that can become part of industrial coatings, insect repellant or whatever final product the company is developing.

Zymergen is one of a number of companies that are using biology, along with machine learning and robotics, to transform how we manufacture stuff. And after years of flying under the radar, investors are taking notice. In addition to Zymergen’s IPO, Gingko Bioworks, which we profiled in Forbes magazine in 2019, is now reportedly considering a SPAC deal worth more than $20 billion.

“I love the symbolism that we’re going public on Earth Day.”

Zymergen’s first product is a transparent polymer film, called Hyaline, that it’s marketing for use in consumer electronics. It has 10 other products in development in electronics, personal care and agriculture. The potential market opportunity, by Zymergen’s calculations, is $1.2 trillion. “I’m not saying we’re ever going to sell $1.2 trillion, let’s not be absurd, but it’s ubiquitous across product classes,” Hoffman says. “We’re trying to make better stuff in a better way across the economy, and last I checked there was a lot of stuff to go make.”

But this is a long game: Though Zymergen had raised more than $1 billion from investors that include SoftBank, True Ventures and DCVC before its IPO, it’s just beginning to commercialize its first product. Revenue last year was a meager $13 million, “substantially all” of which came from R&D service contracts and collaboration agreements for developing, testing and validating its biomanufacturing platform, according to its prospectus. The company reported a net loss of $262 million for 2020, and has said that it does not expect to be profitable in the foreseeable future.

Hoffman, who has an undergraduate degree from the Unviersity of California, Berkeley, and a graduate degree from Yale, never intended to be an entrepreneur. He started his career at the Carter Center in Atlanta, then worked for the Uganda Ministry of Finance before winding up in banking. “Entrepreneur is not a label I apply to myself,” he says. “I would be a little uneasy if somebody called me that, but it probably fits.”

Hoffman had been doing some advisory work at Amyris, and when Serber left to start his own company the two started hanging out and talking about the potential. Today, their Emeryville labs are a high-tech space, where scientists wearing white lab coats with a stylized letter “Z” on them run experiments rapidly thanks to the company’s custom automation.

In a video tour of the labs last summer, Zymergen showed off how it had integrated systems to not only have colony-picking robots, but to design software that could put the pieces together in modular fashion. “Jed Dean and I traveled to China to visit car parts factories and Apple factories to learn how the work is done,” Will Serber, Zymergen’s head of automation, who has a master’s degree in astrophysics from Princeton, explained then.

Zymergen’s Hyaline product is a bio-based polymer film that is transparent and strong, yet bendable, making it good for use in foldable touchscreen phones, high-density flexible printed circuits, wearable sensors and other consumer electronics. The company launched it commercially in December 2020, and is currently doing qualifications with potential customers.

Most of the materials currently in use as optical films are petrochemical-based and decades old, giving Zymergen’s product an advantage in sustainability. But Zymergen’s pitch to customers is more than that. “If you show up at a phone company or an OEM and you’re like ‘biology can change your world,’ they’re like, ‘that’s cool, but I don’t know what to do with it.’ But if you show up with an optical film, that’s a different story,” Hoffman says. “We’re not selling sustainability, we’re selling performance.”

Among the next products in development are another optical film, for launch in 2022, and a next-generation film that could be used in flexible electronics and as insulation for antennas to deliver 5G data speeds, planned for 2023. In agriculture, meanwhile, it is working on a bio-based, non-Deet insect repellant and a microbial alternative to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.

“We’re still in the first mile of a 100-mile race,” says Hoffman, who owns just over 3 million shares of stock worth $93 million at the offering price. “The goal was not to create a company to go public. It was to create a generation-defining company that allows us to make products in a better way. It’s going to be years before we fully realize that.”

I’m a senior editor at Forbes, where I cover manufacturing, industrial innovation and consumer products. I also edit the Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before rejoining Forbes in 2016, I was a senior writer or staff writer at BusinessWeek, Money and the New York Daily News. My work has also appeared in Barron’s, Inc., the New York Times and numerous other publications. I’m based in New York, but my family is from Pittsburgh—and I love stories that get me out into the industrial heartland. Ping me with ideas, or follow me on Twitter @amyfeldman.

Source: In An Earth Day Test For Synthetic Biology Field, Zymergen Raises $500 Million In IPO

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The Everyday Chemicals That Might Be Leading Us to Our Extinction

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If you’ve smugly enjoyed the dystopian worlds of “The Handmaid’s Tale” (where infertility is triggered in part by environmental pollutants) or “Children of Men” (where humanity is on the precipice of extinction) — and believed that these stories were rooted firmly in fantasy — Shanna Swan’s “Count Down” will serve as an awakening.

“Count Down,” which Swan wrote with the health and science journalist Stacey Colino, chronicles rising human infertility and warns of dire consequences for our species if this trend doesn’t slow. The reason, Swan explains, may be growing exposure to “endocrine disrupting chemicals” that are found in everything from plastics, flame retardants, electronics, food packaging and pesticides to personal care products and cosmetics.

She outlines the danger. These substances interfere with normal hormonal function, including testosterone and estrogen. Even in small doses, they pose particular danger to unborn babies and young children whose bodies are growing rapidly. These hormone-warping chemicals, which can enter even the placenta, have the ability to alter the anatomical development of girls and boys, change brain function and impair the immune system.

Swan is a noted environmental and reproductive epidemiologist who has studied this subject for more than two decades. Her work on falling sperm counts garnered worldwide attention in 2017. Media coverage focused on her central finding: From 1973 to 2011, the total sperm count of men in Western countries dropped by 59 percent. The quality also nose-dived, with more odd-shaped sperm and fewer strong swimmers capable of fertilizing an egg. Perhaps most important, the DNA they carried was also more damaged.

A study Swan cites in “Count Down” found that just over a quarter of men experiencing erectile dysfunction were under 40. That may be, in part, because testosterone levels have been dropping at 1 percent per year since 1982. The outlook for women isn’t good either. The miscarriage rate has risen by 1 percent per year over the last two decades. If these trajectories continue, in vitro fertilization and other artificial reproductive technologies may become a widely needed tool for conceiving children.Get the Book Review Newsletter: Be the first to see reviews, news and features in The New York Times Book Review.

Swan distills information harvested from hundreds of published studies and while some ring familiar, the conclusion she reaches hits hard. These chemicals are limiting the ability of current and future generations to have children. They could, ultimately, snuff out the human species altogether.

This is why Swan was compelled to write this book, one with apocalyptic implications. Despite the publicity, these alarming findings haven’t sparked changes in environmental policies, regulations or public demand for safe substitutes.

Her focus on male infertility marks an overdue inflection point, with the medical community’s acceptance that the health of both sexes is equally important. When a couple can’t conceive or a woman miscarries, she usually bears the blame. Swan dispels the myths surrounding reproductive failure. Yes, as women get older, their ability to get pregnant drops, but Swan reminds us that a man’s reproductive clock is also ticking as he ages. Abnormal sperm, increasingly common in men over 40, can also cause miscarriages.

Teasing out the mechanisms behind plummeting fertility rates is complicated. While man-made chemicals certainly play a role, Swan emphasizes that timing matters, with different impacts for those exposed in utero, as newborns, adolescents or adults. She walks the reader through the reproductive problems that result from contact with flame retardants, pesticides and what she calls “an alphabet soup” of chemicals.

For men, phthalates, found in many products, from plastics to shampoos, are the worst offenders, tanking testosterone levels and sperm counts — and causing sperm to basically commit suicide. In women, these chemicals may cause early menopause or cysts in the ovaries, or they may disrupt monthly cycles.

Bisphenol A, a ubiquitous chemical used in hard plastics, electronics and millions of other items, affects both sexes but is particularly concerning for women. It interferes with conception and causes miscarriages early in pregnancy.

Swan broadens her argument by documenting how these chemicals are jeopardizing the survival of many other creatures. Genital abnormalities are of great concern: distinctly smaller penises in alligators, panthers and mink, as well as fish, frogs, snapping turtles and birds that appear to have both male and female gonads, and mating difficulties in many species caused by altered behavior.

Swan highlights another layer of risk. Parents’ exposure to these chemicals can affect the sexual development of their children. If a woman smokes when she is pregnant, her son’s sperm counts may drop by 40 percent — and if he is later exposed to endocrine disruptors, his sperm production may drop so low that he becomes infertile. Swan describes the collateral damage caused by a combination of lifestyle factors — such as stress or bad diet — and daily exposure to toxic chemicals. The effects can radiate down through several generations.

Although most of Swan’s analyses focus on Western countries, she has uncovered similar trends in South America, Asia and Africa.

Swan offers a sense of relief in her wrap-up, providing practical advice on steps that individuals can take to protect their health. She goes beyond lifestyle recommendations, outlining a far more difficult task: Purging harmful chemicals from our homes by reading the ingredients on bathroom and kitchen cleaners. Choosing personal care products that are phthalate-free and paraben-free. Ditching air freshener and scented products. Not microwaving food in plastic, making sure to filter drinking water and toss out plastic food storage containers and nonstick cookware. The suggestions go on.

Swan does miss an opportunity to give more attention to real-life stories. When she mentions individuals, their reproductive problems are often described without the history or context that strengthens a narrative. There are times when a memorable personal story might have supplanted a rather detailed anatomical and chemical description. There are passages that suffer from what Swan herself refers to as “stat overload” or dozens of foreign-sounding chemical names.

Over all, her conclusion is well supported: the need for regulation, specifically United States federal policies that require companies to prove chemicals safe before using them commercially. Europeans favor this precautionary principle and are currently phasing out or banning the most dangerous chemicals. Swan underscores how this contrasts with the American approach of “innocent until proven guilty,” which then requires taxpayer-funded government studies to investigate health effects.

“Count Down” is an important book for anyone concerned about the environment, pollution, successful childbearing or declining health of the human species. Other than the pervasive chemical names, it is written in a casual, accessible style and will be of practical relevance to couples and young adults who are considering having a family.

Fertility is already an issue for some who have children later in life, when the effects of these chemicals may be more pronounced. Swan offers somewhat bracing recommendations for women who choose to delay pregnancy: Freeze your eggs in your 20s as an insurance policy. For men, investigating their sperm count early might reveal infertility trends when they are easier to correct. More broadly, this book provides a wake-up call that increases understanding of fertility, its challenges and the recognition that both partners play a role.

But ultimately her conclusion is a plea for swift national and global actions that ban the use of these chemicals and mitigate the effects of those that are impacting health and even life itself worldwide. Swan makes it clear that the future of many species, including our own, depends on it.

By Bijal P. Trivedi

Bijal P. Trivedi is the author of “Breath from Salt: A Deadly Genetic Disease, a New Era in Science, and the Patients and Families Who Changed Medicine Forever.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com

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Science Plus

Episode 1 of 3 Check us out on iTunes! http://testtube.com/podcast​ Please Subscribe! http://testu.be/1FjtHn5​ We may currently well be in the midst of a 6th mass extinction but how much of species loss can be attributed to humans and their endeavors? + + + + + + + + Previous Series: How Fire Shaped and Continues To Shape Humanity: https://youtu.be/pZqmvy5YdAk?list=PLw…​ + + + + + + + + Sources: Are We In The Midst Of A Mass Extinction?: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/ext…​ “Of all species that have existed on Earth, 99.9 percent are now extinct. Many of them perished in five cataclysmic events.”

How Scientists Are Tapping Algae & Plant Waste To Fuel A Sustainable Energy Future -The New York Times

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The water isn’t for drinking. It’s salty, warm and thick with microscopic algae: tiny organisms that might be the future of green energy. In a world that relies on oil, fuels made from these organisms could offer a lower-carbon alternative to diesel, providing cleaner energy for trucks, planes, boats and pretty much anything else with a diesel fuel tank. “We’re working to decrease our overall carbon footprint,” says Kelsey McNeely, who leads ExxonMobil’s biofuels research and development. “I think that’s why we recognize fuels made from algae and plant-based sources could be part of the solution……..

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/paidpost/exxonmobil/the-future-of-energy-it-may-come-from-where-you-least-expect.html?%2520tbs_nyt=2018-Oct-nytoffsite_pocket&cpv_dsm_id=190678299&sr_source=lift_pocket

 

 

 

 

 

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Massive Sinkhole Leaks Radioactive Water Into Florida’s Aquifer – Trevor Nace

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A massive sinkhole recently collapsed nearby Mulberry, Florida, draining approximately 215 million gallons of radioactive and contaminated water into Florida’s aquifer. The sinkhole was located directly below a wastewater storage pond used by Mosaic, the largest phosphate fertilizer producer in the world. There is local outcry that the event in fact took place three weeks before the local community was notified, despite the fact that this is Florida’s largest and primary aquifer for potable water…….

Read more: https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2016/09/23/massive-sinkhole-leaks-radioactive-water-into-floridas-aquifer/?fbclid=IwAR3n9mATbQzjTfq0I1Rra5iCO__arO_L74Mfupci8GKD9Tc8O7zib-R8vxs#652ad5f15ed8

 

 

 

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Norway’s Equinor Shows Big Oil Can Survive Putting A Price On Carbon – Christopher Helman

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Norway, thanks to decades of oil and gas drilling in its coastal waters, has the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, with more than $1 trillion in invested assets. That’s equivalent to roughly $200,000 for each of the 5.2 million Norwegians. Rare among those struck with the “resource curse,” Norwegians feel kind of sheepish about owing their birthright to fossil fuels. Among the world’s most zealous environmentalist states, Norway has pledged to become “climate neutral” by 2030, and has imposed all manner of emissions trading and carbon taxes to get there…….

Read more: https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2018/10/12/norways-equinor-shows-big-oil-can-survive-putting-a-price-on-carbon/#5cd5b73a5c05

 

 

 

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Engineering, Bioplastics Firms Debut ‘Cutting Edge’ Algae Removal Process – Ryan Dailey

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Florida’s problem with algal blooms has taken center stage, and efforts to mitigate it are in high demand. A partnership between two engineering and bioplastics companies aims to bring a new type of solution to the market. One Florida county is already trying it out.

Lee County isn’t the only in Florida, or even in the U.S., with an algal bloom problem. Captains for Clean Water co-founder Daniel Andrews has been keeping an eye on the situation locally.

“What we see now is an ongoing red tide bloom. All these nutrients that are coming from the water from Lake Okeechobee, the cyanobacteria bloom, from the on-the-ground perspective, it appears to be compounding and making it significantly worse. What we’re seeing is collapse,” Andrews told WGCU’s Julie Glenn. “And what we need is solutions, long-term solutions, that will allow this estuary an opportunity to recover.”

Lee County is one of the first to use a system of algae removal developed by global engineering firm AECOM, recently named by Bloomberg as the world’s largest. With about $700,000 in funding from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, the county is contracting with AECOM.

Dan Levy, the firm’s vice president, says the technology has been in the works for some time.

“A lot of effort has been put forward on the academia side, on research and studying it. What we’re trying to do now is bringing it to the field,” Levy said. “And that led us to the development of these semi-permanent systems that could be put into these areas that have nutrient-impacted lakes – eutrophic lakes, where we have an excessive amount of nutrients – to go in there and do something that we consider to be short time. Meaning (in) six months, a few years, and we can reduce enough of the nutrients to restore the lake back to its healthier state.”

AECOM has already done work in North Fort Myers and in Cape Coral’s Nautilus Canal.

As Levy explains, the process removes the rich element of algae cells from what’s called the phototropic zone.

“As we pull the water out from this phototrophic zone, it’s going to go into a containment system that has micro-bubbles on the bottom,” Levy said. “So as the water’s there, we’re going to be adding a polymer to it that will allow it to bind up the algae cells. And this microbubble system on the bottom will create essentially a lift to allow these now foreign particles to float up to the top.”

And that, according to Levy, is when the algae can be removed.

“We’re then able to essentially skim off that top layer, and the remaining water is then filtered and returned back,” Levy said.

The recovered algae biomass is put into a storage unit. Then, the question facing Levy and others is, what to do with the algae once it’s extracted? For that, he turned to a company called Bloom, which has been turning algae into biofoam for use in products like shoes and surf board mats.

For Ryan Hunt, Bloom’s Chief Technology Officer, this is the culmination of years of research.

“I co-founded Algix, which is the parent company of Bloom, in 2010. And that was spun off out of research I was doing at the University of Georgia,” Hunt said. “And so, our goal was using algae to treat wastewater and absorb nitrates and phosphates from the water and Co2 from the air –or Co2 dissolved from the water – and convert those pollutants, those nutrients into something of value.”

It was something of an accident, Hunt says, that he discovered algae is well suited to be converted to biofoam.

“Before I started doing this, I was actually making small, little samples that were 100 percent blue-green algae, like spirulina, and was compressing them, applying heat, and making little compressed bars. And those bars essentially exhibited some thermoplastic-like qualities,” Hunt said.

Levy says that conversion process has additional environmental advantages.

“Foam product in the footwear industry – they use a lot of petrochemicals. So every time, and everybody that wears sneakers that have a foam product- that is made with petrochemicals,” Levy said. “So part of our plan and part of our vision is to say- lets reduce the petrochemicals. And we’ve found — and Bloom really has pioneered that — the ability to reduce the amount of petrochemicals in foam, by substituting it with algae.”

And the resulting biofoam doesn’t have the toxic properties that some algae species carry, according to Hunt.

“Detectable levels of microcystin are far below even the Oregon limit for eating algae,” Hunt said. “So theoretically, if you wanted to you could actually eat the shoe and still be in compliance with the Oregon law, but I don’t recommend doing that.”

A spokesman for Lee County says it is currently “working on the best way to quantify” the project’s results. Because algae mitigation efforts in Lee County are being expedited due to severity, the algae harvested from those waterways will not be given to Bloom to convert to biofoam. But, the companies plan to work together on future projects.

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