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Supplant’s $24m funding will help replace sugar in foods

Supplant, the Cambridge-based natural sugar replacement company that rebranded from Cambridge Glycoscience in 2020, has received $24m in venture capital financing to commercialise its low-cost sugar replacement, which it makes entirely from plant fibre.

Supplant founder Dr Tom Simmons at the Bio-Innovation Centre on the Science Park. Picture: Keith Heppell
Supplant founder Dr Tom Simmons at the Bio-Innovation Centre on the Science Park. Picture: Keith Heppell

The sources of plant fibre that Supplant uses include wheat straw, rice straw and corn stalks, says Tom Simmons, the founder and CEO.

“The product is fundamentally just sugars from fibre,” Dr Simmons explains. “We haven’t invented any crazy new chemicals.

“Dietary fibre is almost entirely composed of sugars. We take that fibre and break it down into the sugars that it is made of. It then looks similar to cane sugar, both by eye and on a molecular level.

“These fibre-derived sugars can then be used in cookies, cakes and chocolates in the same way cane sugar can, but because the sugars are fibre-derived they behave physiologically in the body like fibre.”

Like the dietary fibre from which it’s made, Supplant’s ingredient is low calorie, has a low impact on blood-sugar levels, and is prebiotic – which actually makes it healthy.

Supplant will use the investment to significantly grow its team, as well as to progress its product to market, especially in the US where “various multi-nationals” have shown interest. Investors include Manta Ray, Khosla, Felicis, EQT, Coatue and Y-Combinator.

The company was incorporated in 2017 as Cambridge Glycoscience. Dr Simmons had held a postdoc and a fellowship in the Biochemistry Department at the University of Cambridge. The company originally operated there for the best part of a year in the lab of Prof Paul Dupree, who continues as scientific advisor to Supplant.

“I’d joined the entrepreneurship programme at Cambridge Judge Business School in 2015/2016, then had an enterprise fellowship from the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 2017 when my fellowship ended I took the plunge.”

Sugar is a preservative – and also the cause of millions of cases of diabetes
Sugar is a preservative – and also the cause of millions of cases of diabetes

The period from end-2017 to mid-2018 saw the company struggle to get the foundations of the business established and file its first patent. The company’s fortunes changed in 2018 when – still Cambridge Glycoscience – it joined Y Combinator, a new model for funding early-stage start-ups in California.

“That’s when it really started getting going.”

Supplant’s progress comes at a time when there is an increasing focus on healthy living. Sugar plays a huge role triggering diabetes, which affects one in 20 people in the UK. The food industry uses a phenomenal amount of sugar, not just in sweets, cakes and biscuits, but also in yoghurts, ketchups, baked beans, pasta and curry sauces, fruit juices, canned fruit, sports drinks and ready meals. Using fibre to deliver the taste of sugar without the negative effects has huge potential.

The $24m investment, announced last month, will make a huge difference to Supplant’s ability to transform the food sector.

“The funding will principally be used to go to the market,” Dr Simmons says, “to scale up the process in the next year or two, and partly to put together a facility in Cambridge on the production side, and a lot of commercial work in terms of working with partners.”

“We’re now actively recruiting,” adds Dr Simmons “and so looking for ambitious people to join the company across commercial and technical roles.”

Supplant is currently based at the Bio-Innovation Centre building on Cambridge Science Park.

“We’ve been there three months, it’s so far so good,” concludes Dr Simmons. The team of 15 features 10 scientists.

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