Firm automates ingredient discovery based on epigenetic activity

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Image © iStockPhoto
Image © iStockPhoto
Finding new bioactive molecules has in the past been something of a treasure hunt that had developers combing records of traditional uses of botanicals for clues pointing the way to new products. UK-based natural products company Sibelius Limited is one of a growing cadre of firms that are automating this search, offering years’ worth of results in hours. Sibelius bases its technology on an epigenetic approach, tracing from the observed non genetic factors that affect gene expression back toward natural materials that might positively affect these conditions.

“We have been told in the past that our health outcomes are written in our genes,”​ chief scientific officer Alexandre Akoulitchev told NutraIngredients-USA. “But is very clear that a lot of things that happen to us in our lifetimes affect this. It is the inherited patten of gene expression that is passed on as a result of the stresses of the environment. It is the response to chronic conditions.” 

“These mechanisms are fundamental and​ (unlike the underlying DNA) they can be modulated and reset. Epigenetically active natural ingredients are those contribute to improved sensitivity.  We can basically reset our bodies to a more adequate response to the environment,” ​he said.

Once this goal is identified, the question is how to get there. Extrapolating from the known effects of certain molecules can sometimes yield results. If polyphenol does A, another polyphenol of similar structure might do the same or better, for example. But it’s a time consuming approach that might detour into frequent dead ends.  Sibelius sought a different approach by applying a rapid screening technology to the search. The screening technique uses several stages including yeast molecular and cellular screens and a stage using the nematode species C. elegans​.

Sibelius has developed a number of proprietary ingredient combinations via the technology. The company plays it close to the vest on the specific components of these combinations, using only alpha-numeric designations and conditions targets. These range from SIB1, aimed at “skin and beauty” applications up to SIB12.  Among the other health indications are weight loss, anti-inflammatory and circulation and blood pressure.  The company does say that by using its technology it has identified a natural compound that has anti-aging properties that are “three times stronger than resveratrol.”

“In general we can work with any natural product and see how the network ​(represented in the yeasts and nematodes) responds. We have gotten quite a few interesting leads from Traditional Chinese Medicine,” ​Akoulitchev.

Ingredient combinations

Sibelius advertises a partnership approach with potential customers, in which the company can use it screening technology to test a customer’s existing ingredients for epigenetic activity and show how this could be boosted by or replaced by one of Sibelius’ proprietary combinations.  The company said it has recently occupied new facilities in Oxford and has doubled its screening capacity.

“Because we have a high throughput screening we can take any familiar botanical you could name and rapidly test it to see if it has epigenetic potential,” ​said chief commercial officer Mark Wood. “We have tested literally hundreds of thousands of natural ingredients to see if they have epigenetic activity.  We can also look for synergistic combinations, and by using those a customer could bring something really unique to market.”

Akoulitchev said the technology can also be used to identify the best sources for existing ingredients.  It drills down past the usual measures of purity and potency looks at the actual activity offered from a particular source for a botanical.

“When we test an individual ingredient we look at the sources of those ingredients. We test the activity and we tend to look for exclusive sources that show the most biological activity,” ​Akoulitchev said.

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