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Prokaria (IS)

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Prokaria Ltd was founded under the name of IceTherm in June 1998 and its operations started in October that year. It is a spin-off from a long-term research project on microorganisms living in geysers and hot springs (thermophiles) by the Technological Institute of Iceland, TII, (a non-profit governmental research institute) and the University of Iceland. This work had been partially carried out by the university and TII in EC funded projects. The company was initially funded with seed money from individuals. In 2000, the company embarked on a first round of venture capital funding and raised 15 million Euros, which should cover the cost of research for the next three years.

Dr Kristjánsson
Dr Kristjánsson

The company

The company is based on two decades of research on thermophiles headed by Dr Jakob Kristjánsson, currently the president and CSO of Prokaria. The founders include Dr Kristjánsson, an expert on thermophiles and Professor of Biotechnology at the University of Iceland, Dr Kári Stefánsson, CEO of deCODE Genetics and Hannes Smárason MBA, the Executive Vice President of deCODE Genetics. As of June 1st 2001 Prokaria had 30 employees and recently moved into new 1000m², fully equipped laboratories in Reykjavik.

Company Policy

The completion of the human genome project and increased environmental concerns are just two of the reasons why the demand for new enzymes, drugs and other products is increasing rapidly. Prokaria uses heat-tolerant (thermophilic) bacteria isolated from Iceland's unique geothermal resources to search for novel genes. Prokaria's products are aimed at three main markets: the biotechnology/genomics industry for research and diagnostics, food/agricultural/chemical companies and the pharmaceuticals industry.

Thermostable proteins have a wide range of applications because they are more robust than other proteins and are active in extreme conditions. To name an example, Prokaria plans to use heat tolerant proteins as processing aid for feed and food production and to convert biomass into biofuels. Due to their thermal stability it will be possible to increase production rates and to kill undesirable bacteria without destroying the heat tolerant enzyme. Similarly, heat tolerant enzymes will play a major role in the chemical industry because of their higher specificity, and the increased speed and efficiency of biocatalysis in chemical reactions.

Thermophilic bacteria in hot springs are the oldest life forms on earth and therefore contain a number of essential protein families, which are found in many living organisms from simple pathogenic bacteria to humans. As protein structures can be highly conserved, Prokaria is using the protein diversity of hot spring bacteria to elucidate the essential structural elements found in many important drug targets. The knowledge gained from the resulting structural models can aid and speed up the long and difficult process of modern drug design and development.

Prokaria's existence is based on the sustainable use and conservation of nature, in particular microbial biodiversity in geothermal areas, and on the development of environmentally sound technology. They seek to minimise the impact of field operations and to optimise their environmental performance. Prokaria has already identified 3500 strains of thermophilic bacteria and aim to identify 1,600 new strains over the next five years. They now plan to make information on their activities accessible to the public via the Internet.

Keys to Success


Several key factors give Prokaria a strong competitive position. Firstly, Prokaria has developed a discovery pipeline that can provide a wide selection of diverse proteins belonging to gene families with applications in biotechnology, chemistry, agricultural and pharmaceutical industries. This discovery pipeline also serves as a powerful tool for drug discovery and design. The underlying methods will from part of the novel technologies and intellectual property in Prokaria's growing patent portfolio. By studying diverse candidate proteins from hot spring bacteria, key structural elements can be identified in selected protein families. As thermostable proteins are ideal for structure determination they may provide homology models of many important drug targets in pathogens and humans to speed up the process of designing drugs from lead compounds.

Secondly, the collection of samples from Iceland's geothermal areas is regulated by the government and requires a licence. In exchange for investing 3.5 million Euros in research and development in Iceland over the next five years Prokaria has been granted preferential access to 28 of Iceland's 60 geothermal areas. The regulation also stipulates the payment of royalties to landowners for any strain isolated from their springs if resulting products are commercialised.

Thirdly, the strong technological position of the company and their computerised GENEMINING™ system ensures the rapid discovery of new genes.

Fourthly, the strategic alliance with deCODE Genetics provides scientific support and access to their laboratories and powerful sequencing facilities.

Finally, the main competitors of the company are based in the USA and Canada giving Prokaria a unique position in Europe.

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Prokaria Ltd
Gylfaflöt 5
IS-112 Reykjavik