Jan 25, 2016
By Alex Kopelyan
Taking Control of Cellular Protein Output: an Interview with Paul Feldstein of Circularis

Cellular protein production is used across industries to create products for medicine, consumers, research, and more. However, the technology to do so in the most efficient and effective ways has lagged behind production.

Circularis is using their expertise in discovering, analyzing, and evolving cellular promoters in order to regulate protein production with revolutionary precision. I talked to the company’s CEO, Paul Feldstein, about his team’s expertise, taking this advanced technology from academia to startups, and how Circularis will push biotech forward. Check out his pitch live on February 4th on IndieBio’s Demo Day Livestream!

A: Tell me about your background, how did you get involved in the biotech space?

P: I received my PhD at UC Davis in biochemistry and worked in one of the pioneering ribozyme (catalytic RNA) labs. So my background is in RNA biochemistry, and I have been working on research with the most primitive molecular parasites. These are made of RNA, are even simpler than viruses, and have led to the development of useful molecular tools.

A: What problem are you working to solve with your company, Circularis?

P: For years we’ve been thinking about better ways to find promoters since the current tools are cumbersome and hard to work with. Our technology can discover, analyze, and evolve promoters. There’s a lot we can do with that. We can regulate protein production to increase or decrease cellular output. We can do diagnostics to see how cells change in disease states. We can do therapeutics. Ultimately, a cell has to turn on a genetic program to respond to signals and that program is driven by promoters.

A: If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

P: We want to help great companies become even better. There are a lot of companies that are making proteins and facing challenges. We think we can make them better and drive the field of biotech forward.

A: How do you think success can change your industry?

P: Microbes, plant, and animal cells are precision instruments that everyone is trying to manipulate. Right now the whole field of biotech is trying to use sledgehammers to control these small precise instruments. We’re making precision tools to actually control cells effectively.

A: How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

P: My experience in biochemistry is allowing us to develop the fundamental technology. Jim and LeAnn know how to apply it to plant and animal cells. We have decades of experience developing these tools from scratch and working together.

A: Any big lessons learned transitioning from academia to startup entrepreneurship?

P: It’s an entirely different world. I’m used to being judged only on the basis of the science in academia. In startups people think the science is interesting, but they really want to know how we’re going to make money and be a viable company. This a big learning curve and means we’re learning a totally different language. Academics talk for a long time about details, and here we’re giving five-minute pitches to explain everything.

A: What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

P: In the short term we aim to successfully complete our pilot projects and develop longer term ongoing business relationships with our customers. In the long term, we want to expand our repertoire of organisms that we work on from only microbes to include mammalian and plant cells.

Get in touch with Paul at pafeldstein@circularisbiotech.com