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Biotech firm launches bid to turn L-Ergothioneine into household name as ‘EGT’

By Elaine Watson , 20-Apr-2012

Discovered in 1909, L-Ergothioneine is produced by microbes in the soil and makes its way into mushrooms, grapes, meats and dairy products. However, it was 'close to 100 years before anyone figured out how to synthesize it in an economic price', says Oxis International

Discovered in 1909, L-Ergothioneine is produced by microbes in the soil and makes its way into mushrooms, grapes, meats and dairy products. However, it was 'close to 100 years before anyone figured out how to synthesize it in an economic price', says Oxis International

Energy drinks and foods, eye health supplements and skin creams are just some of the products likely to emerge from an LA-based firm on a mission to turn L-Ergothioneine – an antioxidant it claims has “unparalleled” benefits – into a household name.

Oxis International chief executive David Saloff was speaking to NutraIngredients-USA.com after announcing a joint venture with digital advertising and marketing agency engage:BDR to sell and promote a series of new products containing L-Ergothioneine – dubbed ‘EGT’.

He is also talking to distributors supplying traditional retail channels and multi-level-marketing companies interesting in carrying the products.

We’re not interested in being an ingredients supplier

The first product - a joint health supplement called ErgoFlex containing EGT, glucosamine, hyaluronic acid and other ingredients – has been shown to reduce pain and increase the range of motion of joints in a small human clinical study published last month in Preventive Medicine (click here ).

This will be followed by skincare products in June, and then a third launch in Q4 2012 or Q1, 2013, probably an energy-type food and/or beverage, said Saloff.

“We’re not interested in being an ingredients supplier. The plan is to sell finished products or help to formulate them with a partner and participate on a royalty basis.”

Having completed the self-affirmed GRAS process for EGT last fall, Oxis is now exploring several food and beverage formulations built around EGT, which is heat and acid stable,“pretty tasteless and totally soluble”.

‘It pretty much sat as a curiosity’ for a century

Speaking to us  after the First International Congress on Ergothioneine  last year, Oxis president Bernie Landes said L-ergothioneine was produced by microbes in the soil and makes its way into mushrooms, grapes, meats and dairy products.

While it was ‘discovered’ in 1909, “it was close to 100 years before anyone figured out how to synthesize it in an economic price, so it pretty much sat as a curiosity”, he said.

“We have patented the synthesis process for producing it but we outsourced manufacturing to a company [Gemini Pharmaceuticals] that is also an investor in our business that can make commercial quantities."

A very long half-life in the body

He added: “What’s really exciting about it is that it is the only substance I’m aware of that has a gene and transport system that is specific to it [the SLC22A4 gene codes for the carrier protein OCTN1 that enables ergothioneine to be transported into cells].

This gene lights up and expresses for this protein when inflammation happens. I think in future more and more attention will be paid to inflammation and less to antioxidants which are transient in the body. It’s unusual because it has a very long half-life in the body – around 30 days – whereas many antioxidants hang around for more like 30 seconds or 30 minutes.

“Ergothioneine has unparalleled potential benefits for cognitive function, eye health, immune modulation, lung health, reproductive health and skin health, but it cannot be made by the human body.”

Potential application areas

According to Oxis, some of the potential benefits of ERGO include its ability to:

  • Protect mitochondria from damage;
  • Reduce the damaging effects of environmental UV rays;
  • Tackle oxidative stress by mopping up harmful free radicals;
  • Protect against the effects of neurotoxins believed to have a role in cognitive decline.
  • Conserve and maintain the levels of other antioxidants such as Vitamin E, Vitamin C and glutathione.
  • Increase respiration and the oxidation of fat, possibly contributing to increased energy and exercise capacity.

This opened up opportunities for targeted supplements or functional food products in eye health, cognitive health, respiratory health, skin health, and in tackling the underlying inflammation at the root of many chronic diseases, claimed Saloff.

“What is unusual about EGT is that it’s not just an antioxidant, it is an anti-inflammatory.

“But there are also some very specific benefits. Dr John Repine from the University of Colorado [and a member of Oxis’ advisory board] has been doing research into the benefits of L-ergothioneine for tackling acute respiratory diseases and there are also some exciting animal studies looking at cataracts and eye health that need to be followed up with human studies.”

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