MŒA One-to-One Interviews
Dr. Rachid Benchaouir, Coraliotech: marine life as a driving force for human health and wellness through innovation, biotechnologies, research and development.
He has always been interested in the study of nature and his ability to deepen scientific issues combined with strong entrepreneurial skills led him to create in Monaco a leading reality in the field of biotechnologies, research and development launched under the umbrella of Monacotech, the Principality’s leading business start-up incubator. Dr. Rachid Benchaouir welcomed us into his world of research resulting from many years of study and professional training both at public and private level.
After obtaining a Master Degree (DEA) in Microbiology and Virology at the Pasteur Institute & UPMC in 2000 and a further Doctorate (PhD) in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University Pierre & Marie Curie (UPCM) in 2004, both in Paris, his research activity has progressed as Postdoctoral Research Fellow within the Stem Cell Therapy project, carried out at the University of Milan from 2005 until 2007. In 2008, he acted as Project Manager in Biotechnologies at AMT / Uniqure, biopharma company set in Amsterdam (Netherlands). From 2009 until 2011, he played the same role at Genethon, laboratory of excellence specializing in genetics based in Evry (France).
From 2011 until 2014, he was appointed as Team Leader in Gene and Cell Therapy projects, first at the Myology Institute (Paris) and then at the University of Versailles (Paris). In the meanwhile, he has started lecturing at prestigious universities, notably in Nice, Versailles, Paris V, Paris VI, Paris XII (Créteil), École Pratique des Hautes Études - EPHE (Paris) and Evry. From 2015 until 2017, he worked as Scientific Director at SQY Therapeutics (SARL/JEI), highly specialized company set in Versailles (Paris). In 2018, he was accredited to conduct researches (HDR) in Biology and Medicine by the University of Versailles. The same year, he founded, a unique company of which he is CEO, aimed at testing, producing and selling innovative marine ingredients essential for human healthcare and wellness. All products obtained for cosmetic and pharmaceutical use are the result of the application of eco-responsible technologies, as the main ‘mantra’ of the corporate mission. Thus, the company, sponsored by Centre Scientifique de Monaco and MonacoTech, is now considered prior as for the know-how and the effectiveness of its products besides being a remarkable example of corporate social responsibility.
MONACŒCOART® was pleased to meet Dr. Rachid Benchaouir (R.B.) on the 2nd February 2023 at MonacoTech where he deepened the aspects of sustainability related to his win-win research and entrepreneurship paradigm.
TOPICS = IDEA & PRINCIPALITY >> PRIOR RESULT >> MISSION >> WHY CORALS? >> SPECIES >> ECOSYSTEM PRESERVATION >> PREFERRED FIELD >> FUTURE PLANS
MONACŒCOART®: Dr. Rachid Benchaouir thank you for your time and consideration. You have been fond of science and discoveries since your early age. Where does the idea of creating Coraliotech come from? What did you specialise in? Where does the link with the Principality come from?
R.B.: I actually have a great passion for what I do. I refer to the desire for research and discovery that has been natural for me since my adolescence. In particular, I have always enjoyed discovering the origins of things around me by linking them for what my father used to tell me. This soon generated in me a concrete interest in the scientific matter, starting from physics and biology. When I graduated in virology at the Pasteur Institute within the Paris VI University, I drafted a thesis in the field of cell therapy addressed to recover genetic diseases which led me to concentrate on this for the rest of my career. I have therefore specialised in a specific field that is Vectorology which, in a few words, consists in creating molecular tools which allow the direct transfer of genes into the human organism in order to repair the genetic mutations of the individual. From a professional point of view my path is a little atypical. In fact, I spent 50% of my time immersed in the academic research and the remaining 50% in private sector research. I could therefore gain expertise in both realities as well as combine the solid knowledge from university education with project management at corporate level. This peculiarity, together with my focus on Duchenne muscular dystrophy,built up the relationship with the Principality of Monaco, being supported by the Association Monégasque contre les Myopathies (Monegasque Association against Myopathies). Luc Pettavino, President of this humanitarian body, asked the Monaco Scientific Centre to develop specific research in its medical activity. The team I was part of was selected in late 2014 by the will of the Sovereign Prince and the University of Versailles. I started then a close partnership with the Centre Scientifique de Monaco (CSM) in 2015. As an expert in human genetics, I found myself studying new scientific technical approaches linked with marine biology in cooperation with Dr. Sylvie Tambutté (Research Director - Team Physiology/Biochemistry). The main mission was to create through biotechnology a coral molecule, in great quantity and of extremely pure quality. I accepted it as a challenge, being something extremely innovative. The work team and I achieved the goal in a very short time. What I could not imagine is that the research allowed us to find some unknown properties of the coral genetic material. Notably, UV ray protection and human-skin anti-cytotoxic features. I therefore asked CSM to become co-owner of the patent. This was the first intellectual property acquired by the Monegasque centre. After a few months of incubation, the company saw the light in September 2018.
MONACŒCOART®: What do you consider the most important result in the path you have led so far?
R.B.: Having succeeded in enhancing scientific research “Made in Monaco” through the commercialisation of products of high quality and effectiveness. Moreover, my double role as researcher and entrepreneur has allowed me to be integrated in MonacoTech where we still operate using the spaces made available. So, my knowledge has allowed me to concentrate my forces to reach the goal. The meeting of two completely different sectors, genetics and marine biology, was reached thanks to hi-tech instrumentation useful to both.
MONACŒCOART®: Can you describe in a few words the mission of your company? What pushed you to start with corals?
R.B.: First of all, it is important to note that the scientific method we use does not imply any direct contact with natural corals. It is therefore a 100% eco-responsible activity in the sense that we do not destroy corals, existing at sea, to extract genetic material. On the contrary, what we do is starting from the genetic information of the coral on the basis of only a small fragment of it, grown in the aquariums of the Monegasque marine laboratory. Through targeted computing devices at CSM, the small piece is sequenced to get all useful information to search. Coraliotech is then able to work on it using only in vitro technology. Thanks to a prior synthesis, the molecule sequence reproduces itself via cellular systems. This allows us to multiply the genetic material hundreds of thousands of times. Only those sequences are capable to be converted into active ingredients to be used for specific goals without any impact on nature.
Monaco gave me then the chance to transform scientific outcomes into a commercial activity. A virtuous circle unifying research, a proper exploitation structure, that is Coraliotech, and the business factor to get sufficient financial resources capable of advancing research.
MONACŒCOART®: You are working both for the cosmetic and the pharmaceutical industries, what makes the genetic material of corals so interesting? What are the most effective results you have achieved, so far?
R.B.: As a first investigation, we wondered how coral DNA could benefit human health and well-being. Thus, we have compared coral genetic sequences with other living beings to find out homologies or the contact points. All that by using software implemented by artificial intelligence. We were quite surprised by discovering that 50% of certain coral genome looks like the human on the basis of extremely common elements, despite phylogenetic differences. This allowed to predict a great effectiveness of the selected genetic material on human beings. Marine biology research has recently confirmed that coral, unlike humans, lives in an environment constantly subject to change and stress. They have therefore developed effective defences during an evolution, lasting about 350 million years. And their genetic heritage is created to resist the temperature differences, the different solar radiation, pollution, the biological attacks of predators, etc. In other words, they know how to survive by providing protective and defence molecules. The added value of coral is to be able to multiply these beneficial functions, like those antioxidants, on a large scale. Hence, the great potential of products based on these elements. The final goal is to create marketable on-patent products that can have win-win results, after successfully passing all the tests required.
MONACŒCOART®: Are there some types of corals that result more suitable for your research?
R.B.: No, we study all kinds of coral to be able to identify the genome that seems most suitable for achieving the objectives set. As for Monaco Scientific Centre, we focused on the red coral of the Mediterranean Sea. That was, of course, the starting point but we moved then to other species of tropical origin. We have recently expanded our survey on other plant species of the ecosystem of coral reefs, like some symbiotic microalgae or mangroves, sharing similar resilient genes. For the moment, we are not analysing the marine fauna included in the same ecosystemic framework as fishes, crabs and other crustaceans. The synthesized natural macro molecules are directly applicable to the pharmaceutical field with special attention to anti-cancerogenic principles together with infectiology, inflammation as well as the bone and cartilaginous regeneration. There are in this regard candidates who agree to test the effectiveness of these medicinal preparations.
MONACŒCOART®: Do you consider corals as essential species? Are you committed in the coral-ecosystem preservation at corporate level?
R.B.: You need to consider that coral reefs represent about 0,2% of ocean's surface area but they gather 25% -30% of marine biodiversity. It is a remarkable proportion. So that if the corals disappeared, about 1/3 of the marine species would be in danger. We need to protect this essential ecosystem, avoiding in every way to break the coral formations. It is therefore crucial to rely on a technology that can provide human well-being without destroying the natural balance. Coraliotech placed this goal as primary. Solving the ecological-economic dilemma by biotechnology is the heart of our mission.
MONACŒCOART®: What is your main theme of interest at this moment?
R.B.: Although the pharmaceutical industry is still part of our pipeline, we are currently more plunged into bio cosmetics since we have recently been contacted by one of the world’s largest industry leaders. In particular, they are interested in developing with us natural active ingredients that replace UV filters, considered as toxics. The chemical filters in fact released in the waters of the sea have low capacity of degradation. Their concentration in sea waters can have catastrophic consequences for marine fauna and flora who live near the coastlines. Dermo cosmetic research is therefore at the top of the list of current actions. In this respect, we also synthetised some promising antioxidants and anti-aging molecules.
The message we want to send to the big brands of cosmetics is that it is no longer necessary to manage large crops of plant or animal species to get the active ingredients that interest us. We have to be and think ecological. The genetic consequence is more than sufficient to create in vitro molecules 100% identical to the natural version, named ‘native’. And we can do this without any synthesis or extraction of material in nature. Furthermore, we can deliver to the clients a totally pure product basing on this innovative process, preventing any possible allergy or second effect. Not to mention the eco-responsibility side of the product that may be soon developed also through eco-labels and certifications.
MONACŒCOART®: What goals will you promise to achieve during 2023? Are you working on some new products?
R.B.: We intend to continue the creation of new products, to comply with the agreements recently taken, and to produce new sequences of molecules according to the acquired know-how by the creation of a larger productive lab with extra equipment, better technology and more human resources. That will be the great project in 2023, keeping on going with research and production, at the same time.
A further target is also to sponsor a few initiatives by associations committed in the repopulation of coral ecosystems. Notably, Coral Guardian, French NGO aimed at protecting and restoring coral reefs. Targeted actions have proven to be effective and to help to rebuild coral-related biodiversity on localised areas is not utopian.
To know more about Coraliotech please visit: https://www.coraliotech.com/en/
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