Cellibre’s Pioneering Quest To Advance Science: Founder and CEO Ben Chiarelli Speaks

The San Diego area has long been home to one of the largest clusters of life science research institutions in the world. Consistent with that narrative, the city is the home to Cellibre Inc., a rapidly growing sustainable manufacturing tech enterprise that is deploying an organism-agnostic approach to turning cells into life-advancing products. 

With an eye toward sustainability within a $100+ billion cannabinoid market, Cellibre's patented technology shows great promise in creating a one-hundred-fold reduction in the resources needed to make products in this space. Moreover, the company’s advancements also address longstanding supply chain issues tied to high costs, inconsistent production, contamination risks, testing protocols for traditional agriculture, and an evolving regulatory environment. 

Says Ben Chiarelli, Cellibre’s founder and chief executive officer in a recent press release: 

"Our cannabinoid platform is an extremely exciting application of employing biology as manufacturing technology and is also a case study on why our scientific approach is fundamentally advantaged to the strategies employed by traditional synthetic biology companies. By selecting organisms with the proper primary metabolism as a starting point for engineering, we believe we will transform how humans make an almost limitless number of products"

He continues:  

"I am incredibly humbled by what our team has accomplished. I believe we have one of the deepest and broadest intellectual property portfolios in cultured cannabinoids and this raise will allow us to partner with innovators in the health, wellness, and consumer products sectors to bring these amazing ingredients to store shelves."

Chiarelli, who is also the founder and managing partner at Divitempus Ventures, venture capital and private equity firm based in Rancho Santa Fe, California earned his MBA from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business and his B.S. in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve University. He has the distinction of having worked with Dr. Craig Venter, who sequenced the first human genome. 

Chiarelli recently sat down with Gokhshtein Media to discuss the evolving landscape of business funding along with Cellebre’s emerging developments in the cannabinoid area. He also offers a thought or two about the world of blockchain and cryptocurrency. Here’s what he had to share:

Michael: What sorts of things that you’re discovering on your journey around acquiring funding for your company? 

Ben: Honestly, it’s a very weird situation. I would say for the vast majority of businesses, there's never been a better time to fundraise as there's a ton of capital available. 

Michael: Can you share more here?  

Ben: I think that's why we see the price of Bitcoin and Ethereum rising. There's not a lot of yield out there, right? The traditional sources where you would put your money in an economy like this are few and far between.  But I think the cannabis industry is actually pretty interesting.  

I have a buddy who literally just had an idea for a therapeutics company, and he raised 40 million bucks in two months.  Like no problem at all, just instantaneously.  We, on the other hand, actually have a product, are in a massive, massive market, and have major IP advantages, and it took me nine months to raise 12 million bucks, right?  

Michael: Mm-hmm

Ben: I mean it's a total grind.  So I think from a capital-raising perspective, it really depends on where you are at this moment in time and which sectors you're in.  And I just happen to be in the one that is really, really hard to get financed.  

Michael: So explain to us Cellibre’s value proposition in layman’s terms. 

Ben: Our aim is to remove the need for cannabis from agriculture, from the cannabis supply chain.  But the thesis, if you take a step back, is bigger than that, Michael.  While all these people are doing these things on the fringes and everybody wants to talk about sustainability and how virtuous that is, the reality is that unless we fundamentally change how we make things and how we supply products to end consumers, we're never really gonna make a dent in how we interact with the planet and with our ecosystems.  

Michael: How then is Cellibre addressing this? 

Ben: So the entire thesis on this is that we can actually use nature as a manufacturing technology.  We can re-engineer cells to make almost a limitless number of products. Where we started was cannabis, even though I’m not personally a consumer.  What caught my attention was a therapeutic company called GW Pharma, in Carlsbad, California that just got bought for 7 billion dollars.  They developed a cannabinoid therapy for childhood epilepsy which in its first year did 350 million dollars in revenue. 

Michael: Wow.  

Ben: So if you think about any cell, if you think about what biology is, it's a manufacturing technology.  And what I mean by that is that every cell is like a facility or a building.  And within that building, there are a bunch of assembly lines.  In biology, we call those pathways.  And along those assembly lines, there are little robots.  We call those enzymes or syntheses.  So as those nutrients you get from nature are thrown down those assembly lines, those enzymes change the chemistry.  

A great example of this is actually the human body and Covid-19.  If you think about what's happening with Covid it's actually mind-blowing when you break it down to what your body is actually doing.  You eat breakfast in the morning, you catch Covid-19 in the afternoon and by the next day, the cells in your body are manufacturing medicine using the egg that you ate the day before, all for a virus it didn't even know existed 24 hours beforehand.  

Michael: So what’s the significance of this?  

Ben: So imagine a manufacturing company being able to do this in a way that’s instantaneous with nature.  And this happens all around us, whether it's the flowers that are making the fragrances or this cannabis plant that's making CBD or THC or CBN or any of these amazing molecules. 

Think about how cannabis is made today.  It usually involves massive indoor grow operations that are controlled for humidity, temperature, and soil conditions.  You have them all over Colorado, right? 

And then there are these other massive facilities that then take those crops and process them, either into smokable flower products or oils or isolates, to be thrown throughout the supply chain into all these different products.  The beauty here is that what would take you a 5 million square foot grow and extraction operation to do, we can accomplish in less than 30,000 square feet.  

Scott: Sounds like a great way to scale this

Ben: Exactly! And the ultra-beauty of all of this is that it can be achieved at one-hundredth to one-thousandth of what it costs to get it from a plant.  The square footage difference really becomes a proxy for efficient resource and ecosystem usage. 

Michael: So given all of this, what does Cellibre's roadmap look like over the next 12-18 months and beyond? 

Ben: So not only are we gonna be able to, you know, fundamentally change how we interact with ecosystems for growing a weed, not only can we make what we deliver pharmaceutical-grade where our products are pure, specific and the same every single time, but we're also gonna start getting access to these medicines to the people who really fucking need them, to be honest with you.  

Michael: Very Interesting 

Ben: It is. Think about this, I can buy a hundred-dollar bottle of CBD if I wanted to, and my wife could purchase a package of gummies for  $40 dollars. But the people who really need this might be the guy who’s worked in a West Virginia coal mine for 30 years or the young lady who worked on the Ford factory line or even a poor family whose kid is dealing with major chronic pain that is addicted to heroin now. Those are the people that need it and they can't afford a hundred-dollar bottle of CBD.  So, the question we continually ask ourselves at Cellibre is whether we make CBD products look less like pharmaceuticals and more like Advil. 

Michael: In other words, more affordable.  

Ben: Yes, along with increased access for consumers.  

Michael: For sure

Ben: It's all about access, right?  And my fundamental belief, my goal, is that if you're starting a company and you want to make a major difference, whether that’s in sustainability or that’s in quality of life, or whatever it is you want to make an impact on, if you aren't from the beginning thinking about those people with the least, you're not making a difference.  All you're doing is improving the lives of people who already have a pretty damned good life, to begin with. 

If you can focus your business on impacting those with the least, everybody is going to rise.  And you're also going to impact those with the most as well. So our entire thesis has been that there are amazing medicines here for everything from diabetes to sleep to anxiety to pain found within this amazing weed from Asia that we call cannabis. With the advancements at our disposal, we can now unlock and basically deconstruct individual components in rider-to-scale products that can actually be helpful to people.  So that's our thesis right now.  

Michael: As you look ahead, what’s next on the horizon? 

Ben: Where we go next is really just looking at supply chains and determining where we can make things better, cheaper, and more convenient?  If you're checking those three boxes along with being more sustainable, that’s icing on the cake.  'Cause your sustainability mission literally means nothing if you're not bringing products to market and displacing legacy supply chains.  

The aim of our current fundraise is to take us from the lab where we are already making CBG, THC, THCV, and CBN cheaper than the plant and more to pilot scale before eventually commercializing later on next year.  

Michael: So is blockchain factoring into any of your discussions? 

Ben: No.  I mean, we don't really need it.  I think it will eventually, right?  But my friend Marc Weinstein is deep into crypto and deep into blockchain and deep into NFTs.  And when the whole NFT thing started, I was like, “why on earth are people paying 50 million dollars for a jpeg?  Like don't we have a better use for time?”  And he was like, “dude, I agree with you but let me walk you through what NFT technology actually is and what the real use cases for it are.” 

After hearing what he had to say I was like, “oh, well that's fucking brilliant.  Like why wouldn't that displace the prevailing model.” I think the argument that I always have with all of these things is, it's not always the best solution that makes it to the floor, right?  I mean, I go back to VHS tapes and Betamax, right?  

Michael: I remember those days. 

Ben: Yes, the technology was in place. But VHS made it because they had a solid distribution channel along with the right people in the right places to make that actually happen, right?  

Michael: Blockchain aside, what’s your general view of Bitcoin? 

A couple of my guys here at Cellibre are heavily invested in crypto and Bitcoin and ya-da-ya-da-ya-da and they are always talking about it.  And they're like, Ben, but it's worth $60,000 a Bitcoin.  And I'm like, Bitcoin has zero value.  There is no such thing as a currency with value.  Currency is simply a medium of exchange.  

Michael: Can you elaborate on this a bit more? 

Ben: What has value are the products and services that are being consumed and allow one to barter at scale.  It has a price but it does not have value.  The best way for me to describe the difference between price and value to you is when I cut my kid's hair for free.  It is not a good value.  There's nothing valuable about it, right?  But the price is zero.  So that's how I explain the difference to them. 

All of this being said, there's no doubt that digital currencies are infinitely better than Fiat currencies in literally every single way.  I can't think of a single way that they're not better.  The problem is the entrenched interest and the power structure that revolves around currency and money. Governments are doing such a wonderful job of being terrible that I think they're just gonna accelerate trends like this.  

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