Seminar after seminar, I go breathless convincing entrepreneurs and politicians they should look more closely at the tremendous opportunities sitting in the Arctic. I'm almost often told that, yes, the Arctic promises to be a great growth territory, only by 2035-2050! And yet, my job is to show them how they could not possibly be more wrong: The Arctic is now. I have many success or start-up stories at hand to do so... but my new discovery will turn the cosmetics industry no less than upside down!
Let's cross the Atlantic to the "Cosmetic Valley". Located in Val-de-Reuil, France, 70 miles north-west of Paris, a small town of 13.000 hosts a handful of extremely innovative French startups. Amongst them, meet TF Chem.
A small biotech company founded in 2007, TFChem dared to go bioprospecting all the way up North. In the 1950s, Canadian scientist P.F. Scholander understood that Arctic fishes could swim in water colder than the freezing point of fish blood thanks to an intriguing "antifreeze" factor. Biologist Arthur DeVries isolated the protein that accounted for that antifreeze effect in 1969. Today, TFChem has found more.
Arctic fishes produce a temperature stress-resistant molecule that helps them survive in waters down to 28°F (-2°C). These "antifreeze proteins" (AFPs) have been used in cosmetics since the early 1990s. And yet, TFChem just patented this week an enhanced synthetic imitation of that miraculous Arctic antifreeze molecule.
That's called "bioprospecting": searching for previously unknown organisms or genes that can form the basis of a new drug or cosmetic. Indeed, TFChem's new glycoprotein is only made from sugar, instead of being extracted from actual Arctic fishes as the industry does today. "We began to mimic these natural molecules and we managed to identify a new family of molecules that not only protected from temperature-related stresses such as coldness, but also from other stress factors", explains Géraldine Deliencourt, founder and director at TFChem.
This new "Arctic molecule" is aimed at protecting humans from oxidative stress. Since oxidative stress is involved in skin-aging, and thought to be involved in the development of cancer, heart failure and Parkinson's diseases, among others, TFChem envisions numerous business applications for its enhanced glycoprotein. Number one would be: green anti-wrinkles/anti-aging creams that work, at a lower price, and that can even be further enhanced for greater skin results. In the medical industry, the molecule would allow for the extension of blood shelf life up to four times longer.
With innovation naturally comes growth and jobs: TFChem plans to grow from 9 to 30 employees in the next 24 months, thanks to this discovery. Yet another success story in the making for the emerging French bioprospecting industry... that originated in the Arctic.
See? The Arctic isn't only host to 412 billion barrels equivalent of oil and gas, nor only home to the world's second largest uranium and rare earths deposits. The Arctic isn't just the next big thing in transcontinental shipping! All these frontier industries will take a few years indeed to truly emerge, whereas Polar bioprospecting is developing fast, now! Many other industries are too, such as dronautics or hydrogen. It's certainly about time to look up North to the Future!