The Russia-Ukraine war has led to economic sanctions on multiple countries, an uptick in commodity prices and major supply chain disruptions. The impacts have touched pretty much every business across the globe, including Stellar Biotics. But for the company’s CEO, Luba Sichel, PhD, it’s much more than economic implications–it’s a humanitarian tragedy that cuts deep.
A leading Ukrainian microbiologist, Sichel is behind the development of del-IMMUNE V, a metabiotic that contains cell wall fragments from L. rhamnosus, one of the most effective microbial cell lysates used to treat a range of conditions in humans and animals.
With more than 30 years of experience, Sichel has received numerous awards for her research and scientific contributions as a scientist, professor and government official. Notably, she was awarded a Medal of Honor for her role in the development of genetically engineered human interferon in the USSR.
In 2000, Sichel established the first biotechnology faculty at the National Technical University of Ukraine and created the country’s initial Biotechnology Education Program. Between 1996 and 2003, Dr. Sichel led the Department of Science & Technology, Ministry of Education and Science; and the Department of Medicine and Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology.
Today Sichel is based in Colorado, where she serves as the co-founder, chief scientific officer and CEO of Stellar Biotics. While Sichel said Stellar Biotics is not influenced by the war directly, she is trying to support her Ukrainian business partner wherever possible.
She continues to collaborate on scientific and clinical research with companies and universities in Ukraine to support the development of new formulations that combine del-IMMUNE V with other therapeutics.
Adapting to a new reality
Sichel explained that Stellar Biotics is working on a number of projects in collaboration with MirImmunoFarm LLC, a joint venture with her son, Fedir Grygoriev.
While many of the materials and ingredients are available via their in-country manufacturer, Grygoriev is challenged with limitations in the supply chain, delivery times and the inability to work within certain geographic areas.
Sichel's role in MirImmunoFarm is tied to research and development, technological decisions and organizing clinical trials for del-IMMUNE V formulas with phytonutrients for different applications. These applications include Del-Immune V with Blackcurrant extract, Del-Immune V with Cinnamon extract and Del-Immune V with Beetroot extract. For Sichel, all this work is the easy part.
“It’s difficult each morning to check if they are still online (meaning still alive). For me, the main argument each day of the war is that it’s much harder for them, for each Ukrainian and for the Ukrainian Army.”
For Sichel, working is often her only solace, serving as an escape from the thoughts of her loved ones caught in a war-ravaged country.
“I try to throw myself into my work at Stellar Biotics, specifically our research and development efforts and all efforts related to strengthening the business. My life changed dramatically from February 24, 2022. Through February and March, I almost lost my ability to think and concentrate on something not connected with Ukraine, missile attacks and kids’ safety. They spent most of the time in bomb shelters. It’s very difficult to talk about my feelings because for me, it doesn’t makes sense how Ukraine is fighting and surviving under bloody brutal attacks, my kids still working and trying to calm me down, I know that need to be as healthy and active as possible and not to create more problems for them – they have enough [to deal with] each day.”
Ukraine’s contributions to biotics
Sichel explained that the Ukrainian microbiologists who worked with lactic acid bacteria and probiotics were some of the most knowledgeable and most significant contributors to the USSR. This area of research was always a priority for the Institute of Microbiology and Virology in Kyiv and created a great foundation worldwide for probiotic implementation in medical practices, in agriculture, for plant health as well as animals.
Ukrainian scientists were also significantly involved in probiotic and probiotic cell fragments research since 1980 when they initially organized the USSR State Program, “Therapeutic Properties of the Bacterial Cell Wall.”
“The biopharmaceutical enterprise ‘Enzyme’ was chosen as the main Scientific and Industrial Center for this program. During this time, I occupied the position of Head of Scientific & Development Department with five research labs. One such lab was created for new program realization. One ‘Pilot Plant’ facility was used for technology development and preparation for industrial implementation,” said Sichel. “During this time many different bacterial species were tested. The most promising results were obtained working with lactic acid bacteria, as was predicted by the initial research of Dr. I. Bogdanov from Bulgaria.”
As the result of her 10+ years working with the Biopharmaceutical Enterprise "Enzyme" (Ladyzhyn, Vinnytsia region, Ukraine), Sichel organized cooperation among several specialized medical institutions and universities that made it possible to develop and introduce an injectable form of the metabiotic Liasten into medical oncological practices in Ukraine. Its use has subsequently expanded in the scope of its medical use and ready-made forms.
In addition to Sichel’s scientific contributions, she’s also doing what she can to help support Ukraine’s battered economy. “I’m helping my kids and other Ukrainians in need financially. Without this support their life would be much tougher. They share what they have with their friends, neighbors and simply others in need.”
Stellar Biotics is assisting MirImmunoFarm in organizing support efforts for the local military through its charitable foundation Pray for Ukraine, which is led by Sichel’s son in Kyiv.
“The entire SB team has, from day one, been very supportive and very kind towards me. I feel their genuine understanding and support, and it helps me to continue to work to help achieve success for SB, for Ukrainian victory and my kids and relatives with the hope that they regain normal life again,” Sichel said.
When she’s not thinking about the safety of her loved ones, Sichel is focused on her preferred distraction: “It’s a pivotal time for Stellar Biotics–we recently launched a new website and branding effort, we are in the midst of a colorectal clinical trial in Cuba.”