Medical implants and waste reduction are among the local uses for technology derived from the sea.
MARINE-BASED technological development is evolving rapidly across Western Australia, with several advancements in the commercialisation of various substances derived from sea life.
The latest major development is a new Broome manufacturing facility for turning oyster shell from a waste product of the pearling industry to a patented injectable bone substitute for grafts and implants.
Called PearlBone, the product is designed for use in surgical, dental and other biomedical applications.
Meanwhile, other news includes Murdoch spin-off Algae Harvest, which has signed a new partnership with Queensland green energy company Cyclion, as well as Fremantle-based SeaStock whose Asparagopsis seaweed technology has gained it a finalist position in a big European startup competition.
A spin-off from research at the University of Western Australia backed by the Banfield family’s Willie Creek Pearls business, Marine Biomedical officially opened the biotech facility, which includes a medical device cleanroom, analytical laboratory, packaging area and offices.
The company has spent about $1 million fitting-out the clean room and acquiring manufacturing capability.
Marine Biomedical was formed in 2021 to commercialise the findings of UWA Medical School research led by academics Minghao Zheng and Rui Ruan, which confirmed that nacre from silver-lipped pearl oysters in Broome has a structure that makes it suitable for bone substitute material.
In 2021, it received $200,000 from the state government’s Regional Economic Development (RED) grant for the establishment of the facility in Broome.
In April, it was the recipient of a matched funds grant of almost $1.4 million through the federally funded Northern Australia Development Program’s Business Development Grant Scheme.
Led by marine biologist Patrick Moase, Marine Biomedical’s board includes Professor Zheng, Willie Creek Pearls managing director Robert Banfield, Orthocell managing director Paul Anderson, and Nexia Perth managing director Mal Di Giulio.
Mr Banfield represents the biggest holding in the company, while Orthocell is also a shareholder alongside UWA.
A listed biotechnology company founded by Mr Anderson, Orthocell has developed somewhat similar technology, including its CelGro platform of collagen medical devices designed to augment surgical repair of bone and soft tissue.
Marine Biomedical already has five specialist staff working at the facility producing batches of PearlBone for quality and safety assessment, and eventual use for treatment of patients with fractures.
“The full-scale batch production during the remainder of 2023 will enable a formal submission to the US FDA for use in humans,” Mr Moase said.
As part of the so-called blue economy, sea-based life and its derivatives are seen as a rich area of opportunity.
Algae Harvest’s new partnership with Brisbane-based green energy company Cyclion is exploring the role algae can play in turning the waste bound for landfill or the sea into electricity and energy.
Cyclion has developed a process to liquify plastics and biomass – food scraps, paper and wood – and convert it into fuel for electricity generation while minimising harmful emissions.
The system moves the waste through various catalytic cycles. At each cycle, the waste is liquified and degraded until all that’s left in the tank is inorganic matter – solid glass or metals – that can be separated and recovered.
Scientists at Murdoch University have been engaged through Algae Harvest to use algae to purify the water and exhaust gasses from the process, removing any residual heavy metals and allowing the water to be recycled.
In other news, SeaStock announced this week it had been named a finalist in the internationally recognised MassChallenge Switzerland 2023 accelerator program.
SeaStock said it was one of 12 finalists from an initial field of more than 1,200 chosen to return to Switzerland this month to compete for the overall prize.
It also received a special award for working to drive the climate resilience and decarbonisation of agriculture and food value chains.
SeaStock managing director and co-founder Tom Puddy was heading to Europe to make his company’s case for the award.
The company was the first in WA to be licensed by Future Feed, which holds the global IP for the use of Asparagopsis seaweed as a livestock feed ingredient that has been shown to lower methane emissions in ruminant livestock.