Antibiotics, hormones, and additives in livestock feed help animals grow, but are not great when they end up on our dinner plates. The US FDA banned the use of antibiotics in 2017, but antibiotics are still widely used in the industry because there are very few alternatives available. Pando Nutrition is challenging the paradigm by genetically engineering probiotics to promote the health of animals through a healthy microbiome. In doing so, they can keep the benefits of antibiotics and eliminate the downsides.
I interviewed co-founders Doug Manofsky (CEO) and Craig Rouskey (CSO) about their entrepreneurial journey.
How did you become interested in synthetic biology and agtech?
DOUG: I have always been a very curious person. My father was an engineer that worked at NASA and he encouraged my siblings and I to tinker from a young age. I was constantly building things from computers to paintball guns. I would eventually pursue a degree in mechanical engineering where computers evolved into electric cars. Around this time, I started to ask bigger questions. How do we end hunger? How can we cure the toughest diseases? How can we reduce pollution? I quickly realized that at the center of some of the biggest problems facing us today is biology. We are biological humans that eat biological food and live on a biological planet. If I wanted to change the world, I needed an incredibly talented co-founder with biological skills, and if we wanted to move the needle in a meaningful way, we needed to build a big business with big impact.
CRAIG: I have been interested in science since I was a young child. It wasn’t until I met my undergraduate mentor, Sr. Maryanne Jerkofsky, that I really solidified my path into science. After my graduate work in Molecular Biology and Immunology, I worked in industry and really honed my synthetic biology skills. I found that there was something really beautiful about the way we could manipulate the molecular world into performing what we need it to do. I fell in love with it. This would have been in 2005. The application of synthetic biology has led me down many paths, co-founding Real Vegan Cheese, the GETit Project, and BioNascent. The idea that I could apply my skills to help the world really excited me, and here I am today applying this technology to helping the world via agtech, all led by an amazing co-founder, Doug Manofsky.
How did you decide to start the company and how does your team come together?
DOUG: Back in 2017, Craig and I were both actively researching big problems to solve and it was a little bit serendipitous that we met when we did. I was interested in Craig’s work at his previous startup, BioNascent, and I wanted to know what was next for him. We started talking about big problems and the new solutions that could be used. We brainstormed tons of ideas together. We realized that the microbiome was going to revolutionize therapeutics and nutrition. At the advice of some mentors, we began looking into animal nutrition. That’s when we discovered that the microbiome was the perfect solution for the huge antibiotic issue in livestock production, not to mention a huge platform to improve livestock sustainability.
CRAIG: I’ll never forget the day Doug called me in November, 2017. I was working at Novartis and he was curious about my work with BioNascent. I told him about the regulatory roadblocks we faced and he and I devised a plan to do similar work in animals to validate the technology. We’ve since taken a long road to finding the sweet spot where our science and business minds align perfectly with our collective passion to help the world.
How does your technology work? What was the key insight?
DOUG: Our technology leverages the power of the microbiome. We realized that the microbiome is central to health and nutrition in all animals, even humans. By using tried and true genetic techniques, the microbiome can be supercharged to solve some of the worlds biggest challenges in hunger, disease, and pollution.
CRAIG: Early in our conversations in 2017, Doug and I had what I would call the ‘Ah-Ha! Moment.’ We realized that the most difficult piece of what people are trying to do in complex protein manufacturing is the purification step. We realized that would could bypass this step and deliver high-value molecules directly to the microbiome, significantly decreasing the costs associated with supporting animal health. This moment was fundamental in shaping the company today.
What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneur at IndieBio?
DOUG: I made the transition from science to business after undergraduate, but that was nowhere near sufficient to prepare me for entrepreneurship. The IndieBio team helps us navigate the intricacies of raising venture capital, telling a compelling story and building a great team.
CRAIG: In being a practicing scientist for what is nearly half of my life I’ve learned to value the art of questioning…everything. I’ve been through IndieBio twice now, and it both experiences I’ve learned the value of applying that scientific questioning to a business. That is, in both science and business, we are pushed to challenge our assumptions, and validate what we believe to be true. This is crucial to science. It’s crucial to business.
How do you think your success as a company will change the animal feed industry?
DOUG: We hope that our success in the animal feed industry will benefit people, the planet, and the animals. By reducing antibiotic usage, we hope to prevent antibiotic resistant disease from sickening people through our food. By leveraging the microbiome, we hope to benefit the planet with fewer greenhouse emissions, such as methane from cows. We also hope that our solutions will help the animals live healthy, happy lives.
CRAIG: I think what we are doing has amazing potential to change the world. I suppose that if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be building Pando. From helping to preserve antibiotics as valuable assets for human use, to reducing methane production in cattle, Pando will help shape a more sustainable livestock-rearing future. The applications are broad, and the outcomes of our first few products will pave the way for future technologies in the animal health and human health spaces.
What milestones are in the near future?
DOUG: We are seeking partners across the industry to help us make our solution a reality. From manufacturers, to distributors, to major food companies, we need lasting partnerships make a big impact.
CRAIG: As the CSO, my focus is mostly on our scientific milestones and how they support our business. These milestones include continuing to develop our platform, work on securing partnerships to co-develop technologies for animal health, scaling our technology in efficient ways, and of course, pursuing some clever ways to enhance our products.