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Beyond omega-3s: Next generation of algae products offer promise of new breed of bioactives targeting cholesterol, the auto-immune system and inflammation

By Elaine WATSON , 24-Jan-2013

HEPI is targeting applications addressing cardiovascular disease risk, skeleto-muscular inflammation due to exertion and strenuous exercise, allergies and allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders, and metabolic functions

HEPI is targeting applications addressing cardiovascular disease risk, skeleto-muscular inflammation due to exertion and strenuous exercise, allergies and allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders, and metabolic functions

Research conducted by Health Enhancement Products (HEPI) could pave the way for a completely new breed of algae-based bioactive food and feed ingredients offering novel approaches to achieving healthy cholesterol, boosting immunity and addressing inflammation, claims the firm.

HEPI president and CEO Andrew Dahl, who took the helm at the Michigan-based firm early last year after working for HEPI on a consultancy basis, said bosses were still deciding which bioactives to market first.

However, they would be very different to any algae-derived product on the market right now, he said.

“We are not going after astaxanthin, or omega-3s, or biofuels. We are looking at totally new small molecules with amino acid or amine-type structures. We could offer them as isolated natural molecules, as natural-occurring extracts or as the straight algae product itself.”

Most algal products on the market today are derived from monocultures, and require a single extraction process, he claimed. By contrast, HEPI is handling complex co-cultures: "We're experimenting with various co-cultures because we’ve found process improvements in mixing complementary species."

It doesn’t work like a statin, and it doesn’t exhibit the hallmark side effects of statins

Preliminary tests showed that one of HEPI’s proprietary ingredients reduced LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and raised HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, although further human trials were needed, said Dahl.

“We’ve patented the method of action, and it’s very novel. We’re expecting notice in the next month or two. However, I can say that it doesn’t work like a statin, and we’ve not been able to induce the side effects of statins. Instead, it apparently promotes self-regulation through genetic signal transduction within the body’s own feedback mechanisms."

He was not able to provide further details until it is possible to "state unequivocally" how it works, and get patent protection lined up, he said.

There is no profit in growing algae for biofuels

He added: “People are finally starting to realize that there is no profit in growing algae for biofuels, so they are converting facilities to produce higher value components, specifically nutritional products."

Asked what commercializing these new products would mean from a regulatory perspective, he said: “If we’re talking about classes of amino acids that are already recognized, we would just need to show there is a predicate molecule that already exists, or a food ingredient that has been previously consumed.

"We would still pursue all of the necessary regulatory approval. Further, new FDA guidelines are being promulgated that would require products to be tested in combination with the ingredients found in a finished product [See the FDA's controversial draft guidance on New Dietary Ingredients or NDIs].

"From our perspective, we would want to conduct those tests anyway to assure customers and licensees that our products remain bioactive in their sports beverages or protein bars without breaking down."

Bovine mastitis

Bovine mastitis is estimated to cost the US dairy industry $1.7-2bn each year

One of the most advanced areas of research conducted by HEPI relates to ingredients that could tackle bovine mastitis, an inflammatory condition that impacts dairy cow milk production and quality.

A preliminary study showed statistically significant improvements in the condition of cow udders and the quality of the milk produced, revealed Dahl. "We're currently conducting in vitro experiments with bovine mammary epithelial cells and mapping their response to test samples utilizing a battery of analytical tests and gene chip technology."

However, exciting work is also progressing on algae-derived ingredients that could boost the auto-immune system, he said.

"A previous study with dogs showed that one of our bioactive compounds holds great promise in relieving joint and muscle stiffness. A new study is on the horizon to further qualify the results."

Repositioning the company towards a licensing model

Dahl, who has been instrumental in attracting new investment to the company, building up the firm’s intellectual property portfolio and commissioning new scientific research, said HEPI has been repositioned from being a producer of algae ingredients to that of a co-developer or licensor of products derived from its proprietary algae cultures for the dietary supplement, food and feed markets.

He said: “HEPI has been growing algae for years, but has not been successful at producing and marketing a product.

“For example, the process they used for cultivating the algae involved scores of tanks and lights and took three months to create very small quantities of end product, which is fine for R&D purposes, but not for commercial applications.”

We don't want to tie ourselves down to any one approach

Under the licensing model, the products could be produced by partners or third parties, he said.

We would like to work with an ingredient supplier or find a contract manufacturer. We’re also looking at different production methods. We’re not even wedded to algae per se.

"The idea is to create beneficial, natural products that comply with existing and contemplated regulation, regardless of the means and methods of production. We don’t want to tie ourselves down to any one approach.

"Quite frankly, our customers are looking for quality, consistency, compliance and cost-effectiveness. Our job is to deliver that by the most efficient means possible.”

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