The Canadian R&D company uses a patented process to produce purified plant proteins that exhibit valuable nutritional, functional or nutraceutical profiles from inexpensive oilseed meals. Its most publicised on-going project involves proteins isolated from canola, the world's second biggest oilseed crop after soy.
Although one of its existing US four canola patents is also applicable to other oilseeds and oilseed meals such as sunflower and soybean, the new patent, which covers a novel protein isolate from any flax oil seed including the low linoleic acid Linola variety designed for human consumption, is its first for an exclusively non-canola based technology.
Burcon has signalled that it will register the patent in 20 European countries.
"Burcon will continue to devote some of its resources to exploring opportunities beyond its core canola protein isolate technology," said company president and COO Johann Tergesen.
He stressed that flax is an important oil seed crop, and that consumer awareness has been growing particularly due to the health benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids it contains, lignans and fibre.
However the potential uses of the protein as set out in the application are more than the protein fortification of processed foods and nutritional supplements; it could also be used for the emulsification of oils, as a body former for baked goods, as a foaming agent, and formed into protein fibres for use in meat analogues or as an egg white substitute or extender.
It may also find uses in pet food, cosmetics, and personal care formulations.
Burcon filed the flax protein patent application in November 2002. Other applications for the same technology filed at the same time in the US and under the Patent Cooperation Treaty of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, but these are still under review.
In full year 2006, Burcon invested C$1.3m (c €0.9) in research and development. Yet to commercialise any ingredient, it reported a loss from operations of C$2.9m (€2.0m).
In July it was granted the go-ahead to conduct a share offering by way of a rights offering, which is expected to raise up to C$5m towards the continuing R&D and general working capital.
Over the past year, the company has been working hard to refine the colour and taste of canola-based Supertein and Puratein to make them suitable for more food applications. At the beginning of this month it signalled that it has moved a step closer to commercialisation, entering into material transfer agreements with food and beverage companies that are clients of its development partner Archer Daniel Midland.