Personal Hygiene’s Renaissance, Brought to You by Synthetic Biology

With a recent $2.5M in funding, Taxa Technologies is employing a consumer-first approach and leveraging microbiome technology to create improved less toxic personal care products
Health & Medicine
Emerging Technologies
Embriette Hyde, PhD
March 25, 2024

Everywhere we look, there are constant reminders of the importance we place on our appearance—commercials for hair regrowth pills or magical anti-wrinkle serums, billboards full of perfect-looking airbrushed people, and social media influencers demonstrating the best hair and makeup hacks. Let’s face it, as a race, our personal hygiene is right up there along with food and sleep in importance, and we are willing to pay for it—the global beauty and personal care products market share was over $500 billion last year and shows no signs of slowing down.

Co-founder & CEO of Taxa Technologies, Xavier Segel [Courtesy of Taxa Technologies]

Whether we are seeking to feel more confident, gain respect at work, or slow the signs of aging on our bodies, one thing is clear—a growing proportion of the population wants their personal care products to be less toxic, both for the sake of their own health and for the good of the environment. In many cases, however, natural personal care products leave much to be desired: from shampoos that don’t work for oily hair to deodorants that don’t block body odor to toothpaste that doesn’t make teeth whiter, natural products, by and large, fall short of their synthetic chemical-based counterparts. Yet, in one of those curious aspects of human psychology, people keep buying them, holding onto the hope that one day they can have their cake and eat it too.

This curiosity—and incredible market opportunity—hasn’t been lost on Xavier Segel, co-founder and CEO of early-stage biotech Taxa Technologies, or his co-founder, Yuichi Fukunaga.  They built their company on a simple premise: delivering customers what they actually want from personal care products.

A Consumer-First Approach to Solving Problems with Synthetic Biology

Like many biotechs, Taxa Technologies is leveraging synthetic biology to build their products, and in their case, they are genetically modifying another hot “technology”: the microbiome. By leveraging the latest advances in ‘omics data generation and analysis, the company focuses entirely on subspecies-level resolution to discover specific genetic targets. Then, using cutting-edge gene editing tools, they can steer site-specific microbiomes at the level of individual metabolic pathways—an approach that not many microbiome companies have used to date. But there is one other thing that makes Taxa Technologies stand out from the rest.

“What makes us a little different than your typical synbio company is that we're very focused on the consumer first,” Segel told me when I sat down with him recently. “We think about the problems consumers are facing and then think about how to deploy a technology to address that unmet need. From a personal care perspective, we're focused on making better ingredients that just happen to leverage microbiome technology, but that’s not what makes them cool or interesting. It’s that we actually get to deliver radically improved products to consumers that make them happier.”

And while microbiome engineering may underpin Taxa Technologies’ technological development at the moment, it’s not something the company is married to, says Segel. If a better solution to the consumer’s problem were to present itself, the company would pivot to adopt that approach instead. “We're super nimble and flexible, and we're technology agnostic,” he explains.

Xavier Segel alongside his Co-founder & COO, Yuichi Fukunaga. [Courtesy of Taxa Technologies]

This consumer-first approach, which is a sweeping departure from the typical “I have a synthetic biology technology, what cool problem can I solve with it?” approach that many companies have been built around, is clearly one that investors think will work. Taxa Technologies recently wrapped up an oversubscribed $2.5 million pre-seed round led by Boost VC with participation from Midnight Venture Partners, Space Cadet Ventures, and Savantus Ventures. These funds will enable the company to build a multidisciplinary team of experts that will combine forces to transform the personal care industry—beginning in Japan, where Fukunaga is based, and then expanding to other markets, including the U.S. and Europe.

Engineering Better Microbial Communities

Taxa Technologies’ consumer-first approach is reminiscent of that being adopted by a growing number of pharmaceutical companies: develop drugs around specific patient characteristics so that they work, rather than developing and optimizing a drug and then struggling to identify the patients it actually works for (if it works at all). Just as this top-down approach in pharma is set to deliver better, cheaper drugs to patients faster, it will also address the critical gap between what consumers of personal care products want and what they’re actually getting. And the way it will do it is genius, in my opinion.

For many years, synthetic biology tools and technology have been met with skepticism, fear, and a range of other emotions from the community at large, particularly when it comes to our food—although ironically, an incredible percentage of pharmaceuticals are made using genome modification of some type. That’s why it’s so delightful that Taxa Technologies will be using synthetic biology to get their consumers closer to nature, not further. In other words, they’ll be leveraging synthetic biology to deliver products that are actually less synthetic. 

“We are building an ingredient profile that is not only more effective, but that is also less toxic and less scary—our ingredient profiles will have two, maybe three ingredients that are all fermented rather than synthetic metals and harsh chemicals,” says Segel.

This puts the company in a great position to passively change the public view of synthetic biology and to accelerate the change in attitude toward the industry that’s already begun among consumers. And the best part is that all this will occur as a natural byproduct (pun not intended) of delivering customers exactly what they want: products that actually work and that they can feel good about using.

As a microbiome expert, the oft-disappointed user of natural personal care products, and writer of synthetic biology stories, I, for one am really excited to see where Taxa Technologies’ narrative goes. I believe—and hope— that it might just end up where Segel himself envisions:

“We're going to build products in opposition to everything that's out there. People are going to see our products and be like, ‘Oh, this is a complete one-eighty of such and such mainstream product, so I have to try it. And if it happens to work, my God, what a renaissance for my personal hygiene.”

Related Articles

No items found.