While the COVID-19 pandemic may have slowed things down for many of us, apparently the folks at Anomera did not get the memo. What started as a discovery in McGill’s chemistry labs by Professor Mark Andrews and lead inventor Tim Morse (McGill PhD’15) has developed into a thriving Quebec-based spinoff experiencing rapid business growth.
Anomera is ramping up production of DextraCel, a sustainably sourced product derived from Canadian lumber. DextraCel has a variety of applications and serves as a biodegradable alternative to plastics and microbeads in skincare products.
Confidence is growing in their offerings. Anomera recently raised over $40 million in financing from a group of private and public investors — the largest round of financing for the company to date — which positions them on a steep growth path for the coming years.
Financing round fuels company expansion in Témiscaming
In November of 2020, Anomera signed a major distribution/development agreement with Croda, an internationally renowned cosmetic industry leader. By January, Anomera had moved into new offices in downtown Montreal, and this spring, they have upgraded and increased the capacity of their manufacturing plant in Témiscaming, Quebec. All of this while adding to their payroll – the company now counts 23 fulltime employees.
To meet the demands of partners like Croda, Anomera is investing significant funds in production expansion. With financing from the Quebec government, the company installed a 2,000-gallon glass lined reactor in its Specialty Materials Facility (the 5+ story-tall unit was inserted using two enormous cranes). With this and other planned upgrades, production capacity of their flagship product DextraCel will increase to 250 tons per year – up from the current 1 ton per year.
The related construction work is also a boon to the Abitibi region, with approximately 50 construction workers involved in the development of this facility.
Adding value to lumber industry waste
At a recent tour of their new offices on Ste-Catherine street in downtown Montreal, CEO Howard Fields was jubilant. “We take the waste material of the lumber industry to make a dissolving pulp and turn it into a product that is of significantly greater value than the feedstock,” he explained in their new laboratory. “And we have the backing of major partners that will enable us to bring that product to markets around the world. This is an ideal business.”
As if these recent developments weren’t enough, the company is still firmly focused on the future, with new products under development. Lead research scientist Monika Rak (McGill PhD‘14) described how they plan to make DextraCel water repellent, instead of its current hydrophilic (attracted to water) form. “It’s something I really love about my job,” she said during the demonstration. “Figuring out ways to take this material and make it behave completely differently is actually a fascinating problem to work on.” The formulation would enable them to provide a smoother base material for skin care products and other topicals.
CEO Fields also suggested further research was underway in the nanoparticle segment, with the company investigating the potential as a carrier for medicines. Looking even further down the road, there are plans for large-scale production facilities, anticipated to be also located in Quebec. Not to mention the additional possible applications for their products in other sectors, such as pigments, building materials and adhesives.
Indeed, if this is how Anomera operates during a pandemic-induced near total economic shutdown, one can only wonder what heights they will reach when the world returns to normal. The sky, as they say, is the limit.