Dr. Nethaji Gallage is the co-founder and CEO of Octarine Bio, a Copenhagen-based company that biosynthesizes therapeutic cannabinoids and psychedelic molecules via novel yeast fermentation technology.
Dr. Gallage moved to Denmark at age 19 after growing up in Sri Lanka. She earned her MSc in Biotechnology from Københavns Universitet (the University of Copenhagen, or UCPH) in 2009. While pursuing her PhD, she forged a new research area focused on the biosynthesis and bioengineering of vanillin at the UCPH Plant Biochemistry Laboratory.
Dr. Gallage’s postdoctoral research at the UCPH Centre for Synthetic Biology involved developing a biosynthetic platform for cannabinoids.1 She then brought her expertise to River Stone Bio, a pharmaceutical biotechnology venture, for two years. In 2018, Dr. Gallage founded Octarine Bio with Dr. Nick Milne, which earned her the University of Copenhagen Science Business Prize for Young Research Scientists. By November 2020, Octarine had secured $1.8 million USD in seed fundraising led by the Danish State Growth Fund.
In an interview with Albert Rønning-Andersson of Danish news outlet MedWatch, Dr. Gallage stated, “It’s evident that many neurological and psychological conditions are poorly treated with the drugs that exist on the market, which leaves doctors, patients and their families desperate for alternatives, which are sometimes – often – illegal.” In this context, she added, “there was a clear opportunity to exploit synthetic biology to create new treatments within a host of disease areas.”
Dr. Gallage pitched Octarine at the BioInnovation Institute’s (BII) 2019 DemoDay. In an interview with BII, she explained why Octarine’s approach to biosynthesis is uniquely suited to the commercialization of cannabinoids: “Today, cannabinoids are mainly sold via plant extraction, but this method is resource-intensive and…difficult to meet the requirements around purity and quality to make a pharmaceutical drug. Chemical production of cannabinoids has the drawback that iteration from one cannabinoid to the other is slow and costly….[and] natural cannabinoids suffer limitations…such as insolubility, psychoactivity, and low bioavailability. We solve this by providing an engineered yeast fermentation platform that produces natural and superior cannabinoids.”
Dr. Gallage also represented Octarine at Denmark’s Cannabis Investor Summit 2020 and the EUSynBioSymposium 2020, presented Octarine’s technology at the 2020 Global Cannabis Research Summit, and was a panelist at the “Cannabinoids: The triple-green opportunity” event at SynBioBeta’s 2020 conference.