From lab to industrial scale bioreactors
EuroBiotech_Can you tell us about Belach Bioteknik's background and how it became the biotechnology company that it is today?
György Rajkai_Belach was established in 1985 by Swedish engineers –our name is the acronym of the founders – and aimed to design and build lab-scale bioreactors for universities, research institutes and R&D departments of production companies. The first customers contacted Belach from the Swedish universities (KTH, Lund, Uppsala University), but we also had industrial partners, mostly pharmaceutical companies. The first products were developed jointly with the academic researchers, in line with their needs. I can mention two of our unique products, a high-throughput multibioreactor system that was developed in a cooperation with academic researchers of Karolinska Institute and the biogas research reactor system that was developed together with SLU, Uppsala. In the 90`s, the company started to offer digital control systems for reactors and bioprocess systems, which was a cutting-edge and pioneer solution at that time. Besides, the Swedish market, Belach entered the Scandinavian market as well. The business philosophy remained the same, we started to serve Norwegian and Finnish universities and research institutes.
The business policy has been unchanged since the beginning: we are at our potential customers/users’ disposal from the very beginning of their projects, supporting them to create and describe the exact requirements that bioreactors and bioprocess systems shall fulfil. We are their partners from the design of the simplest equipment to manufacturing of the most complex automated system.
EuroBiotech_What have been some of your major milestones?
Rajkai_In the 2000s, the company was entrusted by a Swedish vaccine producer to design and build an automated production plant. That was a big challenge for Belach, but this plant had been in operation for 20 years. It meant a real milestone in progression for Belach, by gaining robust experience from the design and execution of stainless steel to in-situ sterilisable bioreactors and production-scale automated bioprocess systems.
We also enlarged our portfolio, developing a parallel multibioreactor system, that is suitable for research purposes, but for small-scale production as well. The last was originally designed for a customer in Germany, a couple of years ago, who produces animal vaccines especially cultivated for farms individually. So low volume for production purposes is needed. These multibioreactos can be run by only one or two persons. At the same time, they can produce a diversity of products, for which different parameters define the process. These reactors can also run several functions such as cultivation, CIP or sterilisation, in parallel in its different vessels.
Belach enlarged the portfolio with other equipment relating to bioprocesses, like decontamination equipment. These can be good solutions in terms of environmental requirements for laboratories, hospitals, as well as industrial user.
EuroBiotech_Can you discuss your current biotechnology projects and their potential impact on the market?
Rajkai_In recent years, we have been contacted by several companies that are dedicated to make research with cultured meat. We were also contacted by a start-up company from the USA, who intended to start their production in this field. The process has been developed by the researchers, but the bioprocess system has been designed by Belach. Since the bioprocess and the equipment is strictly confidential, I just can mention that as a very interesting and challenging task for our engineers. Should the experiments deem successful in the current lab scale and pilot scale systems, we could step ahead to design the production scale reactors and systems.
The significance of this sort of research and experiments to the market can be revolutionary, of course, if they prove realistic and the scale up becomes applicable. We are glad to be among the first “bioneers”.
EuroBiotech_How do you see your company's expertise in biotechnology translating to success in the cultured protein industry?
Rajkai_The cultured protein industry is expected to continue growing in the coming years, driven by concerns over environmental sustainability, animal welfare, and food security. Biotechnology companies need to stay up to date with emerging technologies and market trends to remain competitive in this rapidly changing field. Additionally, biotechnology companies may need to focus on developing unique technologies or products that differentiate them from competitors. Our philosophy follows the same approach that we have been believing for decades: the bioprocess technology shall be developed by the researchers and users, but we can provide design and build the hardware and the software solutions for the bioprocess so that the researchers can achieve their goals. Belach Bioteknik has senior engineers, like chemical engineers, automation engineers, and mechanical and electric engineers, who have designed and built many systems, with unique solutions. Besides the internal team, Belach also works with constant external engineers, consultants and subcontractors who have robust industrial experience in their professional area and our cooperation has lasted for years or decades.
EuroBiotech_What are the key challenges your company is facing now and how are you overcoming them?
Rajkai_One of the key challenges is the uncertainty of the customers, who have become more cautious in the last three years, due to the turbulent circumstances. Based on our experience, the investments are limited, suspended, postponed, or eventually cancelled. Therefore, the pricing strategy is a crucial factor. Our goal is that the customers can continue their research work, and their investments in production plants and find us for mutual professional cooperation, for an affordable price. An additional challenge for the company is to find additional specialists for various key roles. This is crucial to ensure the company’s continuity and expansion.
EuroBiotech_Can you discuss which geographic markets your company is currently targeting for expansion?
Rajkai_Belach Bioteknik – being a small enterprise – entered the European biotech market five to six years ago. We are now present in eleven European countries with benchtop and stainless steel bioreactors that are applicable for both microbial and cell cultivation. In addition to sales, we can reliably provide parts supply and service from our office in Stockholm. We already have – mostly completely unique – equipment in the USA, too, and this expansion – in addition to further expansion in Europe – is also part of our long-term vision.
György Rajkai started his career as an Automation Engineer at Belach Bioteknik in the 90s. Using its expertise, the company developed fully automated bioprocess systems. In 2013, he was appointed CEO. Since 2019, he has been working as CTO, managing the technical design and execution of projects, product developments and unique solutions.
This article was originally published in European Biotechnology Magazine Spring Edition 2023.