News Releases

Sumitomo Chemical Invests in a U.S. Startup: Aiming to Develop Innovative Technology Utilizing Synthetic Biology

Oct. 15, 2019

Sumitomo Chemical has invested US $10 million in SweeGen Inc., a U.S. company that recently launched next-generation stevia-based sweeteners. SweeGen is a member of the U.S.-based start-ups group including Conagen, Inc. as a core company.

This investment is intended to strengthen Sumitomo Chemical's strategic collaborative relationship with SweeGen as well as with their affiliated companies, aiming to establish an array of innovative technologies by combining specialized expertise from synthetic biology and a reservoir of the Company's proprietary technologies together. The collaboration will enable Sumitomo Chemical to accelerate creating or developing the Company's next-generation businesses in its identified priority areas, such as healthcare and reducing environmental impact.

Perceiving climate change and environmental conservation as vital problems facing society and in an effort to solve the problems, Sumitomo Chemical has been focusing on effective utilization of not only chemical synthesis, but also biosynthesis, which is less dependent on fossil resources. By promoting global collaboration with a group of startups having distinctive expertise in synthetic biology, Sumitomo Chemical intends to develop cost-competitive new processes that will contribute to reducing environmental impact or make those high-performance materials that have been considered difficult to obtain via chemical synthesis. As part of these initiatives, Sumitomo Chemical began a joint research several years ago on the biosynthesis of existing chemicals with Conagen, which has an integrated technological capability from designing and culturing of microorganisms to industrialization of fermentation processes. At the same time, the two companies have been discussing joint development of new high-performance materials. Such collaboration and close dialogue have led Sumitomo Chemical to decide on making the investment announced this time.

SweeGen has recently launched next-generation stevia-based sweeteners successfully under a technology license from Conagen, aiming to create a new market for sweeteners as functional food ingredients. The launched sweeteners are drawing attention from the beverage and food industry in their unique features in that they are natural materials-derived, non-GMO, non-calorie, and also more sugar-like in taste than conventional stevia-based sweeteners. From a global perspective, there is a surging demand worldwide for greater use of low-calorie sweeteners as a sugar substitute for a number of reasons. For one thing, an increasing number of people are more conscious of their health than in the past. In addition, the World Health Organization urged all countries in 2016 to impose a tax on sugary drinks as part of measures to prevent lifestyle diseases and obesity. As a result, sugar taxes have been introduced in countries of Europe, Southeast Asia, etc. Given the circumstances, demand for next-generation sweeteners is likely to grow rapidly in the future, and SweeGen is working vigorously to build new production plant and enhance its development and sales capabilities.

SweeGen being thus about to launch the business on a full-fledged scale, Sumitomo Chemical has decided that the time is ripe for the Company to make investment in SweeGen and further deepen and broaden the collaboration with Conagen and SweeGen. Looking to the future, Sumitomo Chemical will make the best use of a SweeGen plant to develop innovative technologies associated with downstream processes (refining and waste water treatment), and will commercially adopt the technologies to produce high-performance materials at its own plants.

Under its Corporate Business Plan for FY2019 to FY2021, Sumitomo Chemical has identified accelerated development of next-generation businesses as one of its basic policies, and is currently building its own innovation ecosystem geared to create new businesses in all of its four priority areas, i.e. healthcare, reducing the impact on the environment, food, and ICT. Sumitomo Chemical will continue efforts to gain access to unique technologies of others through open innovation-oriented interactions with start-ups, academia and others, and then combine such technological expertise with its proprietary technologies to develop new technologies or create new business domains that will serve to realize a sustainable society.

About Conagen

Conagen is advancing the ways natural products are manufactured with molecule-per-molecule precision and customization. Conagen uncovers the metabolic pathways of nature, engineers unique microbes with synthetic biology, and develops high-quality products through specialized fermentation. Conagen delivers innovation to the food and beverage, flavor and fragrance, nutrition, renewable materials, and pharma markets.
For more information:

About SweeGen

SweeGen, Inc. is dedicated to the development, production and distribution of non-caloric sweeteners, utilizing the technology of synthetic biology, for the food, flavor and beverage industries. SweeGen’s robust product pipeline, intellectual property portfolio, and dedicated manufacturing capacity and R&D provide the foundation for innovation and delivery of high-quality sweeteners.
For more information:


Corporate Communications Dept.
27-1, Shinkawa 2-chome, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 104-8260, Japan
TEL: +81-3-5543-5102 FAX: +81-3-5543-5901