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Biotech firm Debut plans to launch its own beauty brand

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Jun 27, 2023

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Debut, a biotech company for the beauty industry, plans to launch its own consumer brand by the end of the year, CEO Joshua Britton tells Axios.

Why it matters: Beauty manufacturing is becoming an attractive dealmaking target, as emerging and established brands tap contract manufacturers to get their ideas to the shelf.

Details: The San Diego-based company has a proprietary database of more than 3.8 million pre-clinical data points.

  • “We have so much data that we actually were like, ‘OK, we can hit new consumer categories, we can hit new claims areas with these ingredients,’” Britton says.

How it works: The company says it eschews traditional fermentation, instead using a cell-free enzyme manufacturing process that overcomes cell limitations and provides a more sustainable, low-cost supply of natural ingredients.

  • It can go from developing novel active ingredients all the way to initial production in a few weeks, Britton says.
  • Finding ingredients in nature doesn't have to involve cutting down a tree or using chemical manufacturing, according to Britton.
  • “Let us know what that ingredient is, or, here's an ingredient for you and we can be the ones that make that in a clean, sustainable, high quality and safe environment,” he says.

Catch up fast: Earlier this month, Debut raised $34 million in Series B funding led by L’Oréal’s venture fund Bold.

  • Fine Structure Ventures, Material Impact, GS Futures, Cavallo Ventures and Cultivian Sandbox Ventures participated.
  • The company has raised just over $60 million in funding to date, according to PitchBook.

Zoom in: Debut is co-developing bio-derived beauty ingredients with L’Oréal that will “outperform current active ingredients” and help the beauty giant meet its sustainability goals.

  • He doesn’t see Debut’s wholly owned and operated brand as competing with the French cosmetics giant.
  • “There’s just so much opportunity in beauty right now,” he says.

What’s next: The new capital will finance R&D and expand its ingredient portfolio.

  • The funds will also support the scaling of its ingredients to meet the needs of much larger brands like L'Oreal.
  • In five years, he hopes Debut’s ingredients will be in multiple beauty products and the company will become the “go-to beauty and biotech company for major beauty CPG companies.”

State of play: Consumer demand has largely driven investor interest in clean beauty, with around 68% of U.S. consumers saying they seek brands that have clean ingredients.

  • Aesop, an Australian clean beauty brand, was snapped up by L’Oréal for $2.5 billion in April.
  • Beautycounter, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based clean-beauty products maker, was acquired in a leveraged buyout by the private-equity firm the Carlyle Group valuing the company at $1 billion in 2021.
  • The Good Face Project, a chemistry informatics company in the beauty space, closed a $5.65 million seed round last August.
  • Mineral-based sunscreen product Minu is raising a seed round it hopes to close by July, the company told Axios.
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