Dr Maria Fátima Lucas studied Chemistry at the University of Oporto, after which she decided to continue with a master’s and a PhD in Computational Chemistry. In her last years as a researcher, she spent 9 of them studying enzymes with molecular modeling at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC). “When I started around 1999, computational power was a small fraction of what it is now, and we were just starting to play around with small molecular simulations. I’ve basically witnessed the development of computational chemistry. After 20 years of experience, I am glad to see how protein engineering has a tangible impact on the world and all the progress we can still make.”
In 2016, faced with the end of her contract and a lack of stable opportunities as a scientist in Barcelona, Maria Fátima confronted a crossroads. The solution? Forge her path. “I had never considered starting my own company; I liked my life as a researcher. But it was the only solution I could think of,” she shares. “Together with a couple of colleagues from the BSC, Emanuele Monza and Victor Gil, we laid the ground for what would eventually become Zymvol.” It turned out to be an unexpected adventure that demanded acquiring new skills—a continuous learning process that still unfolds today.
The focus of Zymvol is clear: customizing enzyme solutions for a more efficient and sustainable industry. What makes the company unique is Zymvol’s comprehensive approach, meeting the client’s needs through smart, computational enzyme discovery and design. Thanks to their technology, they are helping companies make the switch to biochemical processes easier than ever. For their efforts, the team has been recently awarded the Innovation Radar Prize 2023.
Maria Fátima understands the industry’s imperative to become more efficient and sustainable to face the biggest challenges of our time: raw materials depletion, climate change, overpopulation, pollution… But just because it’s crystal clear doesn’t mean it’s easy. “Even when companies are willing to switch from traditional chemical processes to biochemical ones, making these investments without risk is challenging. And not everyone even knows where to start.” Dr Lucas remarks. “I think, above all, industries need to feel safe adopting the technologies and innovations we’re developing. And for that, making it easier for them is crucial. That way, the investment starts to feel less scary, and change starts to become possible.”
The work of Zymvol complements the requirements of the industry by just being very efficient about it. “We simplify the enzyme design and discovery process to the best of our ability, and our technology is faster and more affordable – remaining accurate – than current solutions. I believe the know-how and the certainty that we bring to the table helps ease this initial “risk aversion” that is stopping many industries from fully embracing bio-solutions,” she states.
As Maria Fátima envisions it, the future trend lies in the widespread adoption of biological solutions. “See, for example, what we’ve been able to do together: biomelanin produced with enzymes, which is already in the market through OXYCO, Zymvol’s and Gecco’s joint venture.”
“Biotechnology is the key to accomplishing some of the main goals of a circular economy, such as obtaining recyclable materials or implementing zero-carbon and energy-efficient processes. Our job is to make it accessible to everyone so that powerful solutions such as biocatalysis can genuinely contribute to these much-needed changes,” Dr Lucas concludes.
Links to relevant pages:
- Winner of EU Prize for Women Innovators 2020: https://research-and-innovation.ec.europa.eu/news/all-research-and-innovation-news/eu-prize-women-innovators-2020-and-winners-are-2020-09-23_en