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  • Writer's pictureTim Morch

3 Indian Companies Make Leading Commercial Silk Protein Products

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

India is the world’s second-largest silk producer. But vibrant saris and lustrous fabrics are not the only things silkworms produce. The silkworm cocoon contains two natural silk proteins – fibroin and sericin. They have a remarkable range of applications, including medical, biomedical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, industrial adhesives and membranes, and coatings for the food industry.

Given its rich tradition in the silk industry, it's not surprising that India is a front-runner in silk proteins. Three companies make leading commercial silk protein products. Their founders come from diverse backgrounds but share a passion for the power of silk proteins.

Fibroheal and Serigen focus on medical applications. Serione supplies manufacturers with silk protein liquids and powders for the cosmetics industry.

Early Silk Protein Research and the Rise of Fibroin

It wasn’t until the late 20th century that silk proteins attracted the attention of biomedical and biomaterial researchers. Silk proteins are biocompatible, meaning they are well-tolerated by our bodies, don’t trigger immune responses, and are biodegradable. These characteristics make them suited for medical and biotechnological applications like tissue scaffolds, bone regeneration, drug delivery systems and others.

Silk proteins have a remarkable range of medical, biomedical and cosmetic applications.
Silk proteins: fibroin and sericin

An early focus on silk fibroin revealed a wide range of applications. Fibroin has remarkable mechanical properties. It is strong yet flexible, two critical considerations when designing materials for use in regenerative medicine. Fibroin has high tensile strength, meaning it resists deformation under the mechanical stresses of the body in motion.

Three-dimensional silk-based scaffolds mimic the structure of natural tissues, accelerating advanced regenerative medicine and tissue engineering technologies. The scaffolds provide a supportive framework for cells to grow, adhere, and differentiate into specific cell types. They are used in bone, cartilage, skin, and nerve regeneration applications. As the scaffolds biodegrade, they are gradually replaced by regenerated tissue.

The Slow Ascent of Silk Sericin

It took longer for researchers to zoom in on sericin, the glue holding silkworm cocoons together. Sericin was considered a waste by-product and discarded. Nonetheless, observers noted silk workers had soft skin. Their contact with sericin helped maintain skin hydration, preventing dryness. The observed effects likely led to recognizing sericin's cosmetic and skin care potential. Today, sericin is common in skin care and cosmetics products.

Sericin research is discovering even more uses. For example, it supports tissue repair, providing a moist environment that aids wound healing and tissue repair. It is effective in tissue engineering scaffolds, providing a biocompatible matrix for cell growth and tissue regeneration.

Fibroin and sericin research continues to identify new uses for these versatile proteins.

Out of the Lab and Into the Market

Known applications for silk proteins are making their way out of the lab and into the commercial market. Serione, Serigen and Fibroheal are India’s leading silk protein brands.

A closer look at these companies and their products gives insight into the growth potential in international markets for silk protein-based products.

SERIONE: Transforming Silk Into High-Value Products

Serione, a Silklon Ventures initiative, specializes in silk protein extraction to produce sericin, fibroin, silk powder, silk peptides, and silk amino acids. They are mainly used to manufacture cosmetics and hair care products.

Located in Bangalore, Serione sources virgin silk from regional government markets. Co-founder Jayant Bhoopalam says, “With the government acting as a facilitator in the process, the markup added to the farm gate price is minimal,” noting farmers often bear their transport costs to bring produce to the auction house.

Addressing Farmer Challenges

While sericulture can be profitable for farmers, some challenges remain. Jayant says, “Serione is exploring building a cooperative to help mitigate costs for farmers and address challenges like raw material price fluctuations, inconsistent yields, and irregular raw material quality.”

The initiative aligns with Serione’s commitment to help farmers improve quality and realize consistent revenue for their produce. Additional benefits include creating a safer, cleaner, circular economy by extracting high-value products from silk waste.

Extracting Silk Proteins and Commercial Products

There are several ways to extract silk proteins. Depending on the final product, Serione uses solvents or the high temperature/high pressure (HTHP) method, which is hydrolyzed enzymatically.

According to client specifications, the resulting liquid can be concentrated, dried to produce powder, or sold as is.

Serione Sericin P5K for cosmetic applications

Serione has three commercial products:

P5K: silk sericin powder for cosmetic applications

L5K: sericin silk protein liquid for haircare

HM: a high molecular weight unhydrolyzed silk protein powder for cosmetic applications

Serione Sericin L5K for hair care

These products can be combined with active ingredients like Hyaluronic Acid and Niacinamide in the cosmetic space.

Serione also offers CM, a custom-made liquid or powder sericin silk protein product manufactured for client-specified molecular weights.

Market Expansion and Future Plans

With five new products in the pipeline, Jayant says the company plans to expand to US and EU markets in partnership with end-users, therapeutics brands, cosmetics brands, and ingredient solutions companies.

SERIGEN: Pioneering Tissue Regeneration with Silk Proteins

Founded by Dr. Anuya Nisal, Dr. Premnath Venugopalan, and Dr. Swati Shukla, Serigen is at the forefront of tissue regeneration, leveraging over 15 years of lab research, several published papers, and a commitment to making a positive impact.

The Pune-based company, holding two patents (available HERE and HERE), specializes in three silk protein products: Serimat, Seriderm, and Serioss.

Drs Nisal, Premnath, and Shukla shared their passion for silk proteins and the challenges of transitioning from laboratory to commercial applications. Serigen is a CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory spin-off company supported by Venture Center, one of India’s largest science and technology business incubators.

Silk fibroin based bone void filler
Serioss Osteoconductive Bone Void Filler

Serioss: Synthetic Bone Void Filler

Applications: Made with fibroin protein derived from the Bombyx mori, the world's first product to complete a clinical trial using silk proteins in bone repair and has shown to outperform global bone void filling products by a factor of 2 in all bone repair parameters.

Non-adhesive absorbent wound dressing
Seriderm Non-adhesive Absorbent Wound Dressing

Seriderm: Absorbent Wound Dressing

Applications: Non-healing diabetic wounds, second-degree burns, surgical/trauma wounds, pressure ulcers, bed sores, diabetic ulcers, donor sites and wound preparation for grafting.

Features: Over 95% silk proteins by weight to simplify wound management and speed complex wound healing. Absorbs over 900% of its weight.

It doesn't stick to the wound, making it easy to apply and remove, leaving wounds clean and irritation-free. Dr. Nisal notes it’s “a major improvement on traditional pads that get stuck to wounds and cause discomfort on removal/cleaning. Further, the silk protein contributes to faster and more efficient wound healing.”

Serimat: Soft Tissue Regeneration Matrix

Applications: supports organ reconstruction surgeries to minimize complications in breast reconstruction, vaginal wall reconstruction, abdominal wall reconstruction and dural repair.

All products are ISO 10993 biocompatibility compliant. Seriderm is CDSCO-approved, widely used in hospitals, and prescribed by doctors nationwide. Serioss and Serimat are currently under clinical trials.

Serigen plans to expand to the US market and then the EU market.

FIBROHEAL: Advancing Wound Care With Silk Proteins

Vivek Mishra used to lead the rice seed business for a Tata Group company. On a business trip to Chattisgarh State, he became fascinated with Tussar (wild) silk, immersing himself in silk research. Around that time, a mutual friend introduced Vivek to organic chemist Bharat Tandon resulting in the founding of Fibroheal in April 2017.

Navigating the challenges inherent in growing a startup, Fibroheal faced delays in obtaining regulatory approvals, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a breakthrough in early 2021 marked the market debut of Fibroheal products, showcasing their potential in wound healing applications.

Vivek reflects on the journey:

“We saw wounds healing faster, and that firmed up our belief that we were in the right direction and silk proteins hold great potential. We trusted the journey, and here we are today, the first company from India to have commercialized silk proteins with multiple wound healing applications.”

Vivek Mishra, Fibroheal

Building a coherent vision and fully aligned team emphasizing the shared belief in silk proteins for wound care and medical-tech applications took time for the startup. With a dedicated team, Fibroheal focused on ensuring the quality of raw materials sourced from a silk growers’ collective from Karnataka State, the largest silk producer in India.

The extraction process, utilizing the high-temperature, high-pressure (HTHP) method, is controlled in-house to meet the specified requirements of each product.

Fibroheal's primary market includes hospitals and surgeons, with the postoperative product range like "D Fibroheal Wound Aid" standing out as one of the highest sellers. The products are available in hospitals and pharmacies, catering to any wound or incision on the body.

Vivek says, “Over the years, we have gained a lot of knowledge about the behaviour of this amazing biomaterial.”

As Fibroheal addresses challenges and pain points inherent in scaling a young business, Vivek is focused on increasing volumes, building an international team, and meeting global standards for further expansion.

The Future of Silk Proteins

Silk proteins, nature's dream product, are on the verge of becoming a household name. Their sustainability, biocompatibility, and biodegradability make them a remarkable resource with extensive medical, biomedical, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic applications.

But the story doesn't end there. Silk fibroin, with its exceptional properties, is now making waves as an edible protective coating for fruits and vegetables. This innovative use extends shelf life and contributes to reducing plastic waste.

Silk proteins are breaking new ground in environmental applications, serving as effective air and water filters. Additionally, their adaptability extends to industrial settings, where they function as adhesives, coatings, and valuable components in optical devices and flexible electronics.

Even better, damaged silk cocoons, unsuitable for textiles, can be used in protein extraction. This provides farmers with an additional source of income.

As we look to the future, the potential of silk proteins is unfolding today. They are changing industries and enhancing sustainability. Three Indian companies are leading the charge, demonstrating the commercial success of silk proteins in medical, biomedical, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic applications.

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