Prenexus Health gets big cash infusion to bring prebiotic ingredient to commercial scale

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

PreneXOS, a xlyooligosaccharide derived from sugar cane, is easy to formulate with and is only needed at small inclusion rates, the manufacturer says.  Prenexus Health photo.
PreneXOS, a xlyooligosaccharide derived from sugar cane, is easy to formulate with and is only needed at small inclusion rates, the manufacturer says. Prenexus Health photo.

Related tags: Prebiotics, Gut health, Gut health claim

A new $15 million investment will help prebiotic manufacturer Prenexus Health finally hit commercial scale production for its unique prebiotic xylooligosaccharide ingredient.

The company, which manufacturers its ingredient in Gilbert, AZ, said in a statement released this morning that additional funds attached to the close of the series B round of financing will bring the total to $23 million.

Prenexus has struggled to some degree to bring its unique prebiotic to market.  Branded now as PreneXOS, the prebiotic fiber is sourced from a special strain of high fiber sugar cane, which is grown on organic-certified acreage in the United States. The fiber has shown benefits for promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and has done so at lower doses than many of its competitors — as little as one gram.

Ironing out the production tangles

While the proof of concept was promising, the company ran into difficulties during the scale up process.  While some quantities of the ingredient have trickled out the door, the commercial scale bottleneck was limiting the ingredient’s growth.

CEO Mike Bush, who helped develop the Ganeden BC30 probiotic ingredient before that business was sold to Kerry, was brought on to help put the effort back on the right track.

“The production plant was complete but it is basically a pilot plant,”​ Bush told NutraIngredients-USA. “We have brought on a team of what I call superstar manufacturing and R&D folks.  We have designed an expansion to a size in excess of 150 metric tons a year of product.”

Low dose, organic certifications seen as differentiators

The prebiotic ingredient has gone through several branding changes, being known at various times over the past several years as AmpliVida and XOS95.  Bush said what sets it apart is that it will be the only organic certified XOS manufactured in the US and whose feedstock is grown domestically.

Bush said the company’s new team will finally be able to bring to scale the company’s unique production process, which relies entirely on water.  The Phoenix area was chosen for low manufacturing costs and for its proximity to where the sugar cane is grown in California.  As demand for raw material rises, Bush said the company is planning additional organic acreage in Arizona itself.

One thing Arizona doesn’t have enough of is water.  But Bush said the plant will be designed to capture and recycle the water used in production, so while the process is based on water, it won’t require the massive inputs that some food ingredient processing plants do.

Another differentiator for the ingredient, Bush said, is its low effective dose.  Studies done on the ingredient showed its ability to preferentially feed health promoting gut bacteria in doses as low as one gram a day​.  And Bush said Prenexus plans to protect the value of that research by requiring that dosage in a dietary supplement, food or beverage if the brand holder intends to make a gut health claim on the product.

“Other ingredients might show benefits at 8 grams, but then products go on the market with something like 500 mg of that ingredient. The clinicals we have done thus far and will do in the future are all based on the 1 gram dose, and we will require a full efficacious dose if claims are to be made,” ​Bush said.

Happy biofuels accident

Bush said the ingredient was a happy accident that came out of the biofuels push that began in the US after the oil price shocks of the mid to late 1970s.  Biofuel development got its original impetus from a strategic need, as opposed to any sort of environmental concerns.  Prior to the development of fracking for oil production, military planners were concerned that enemies abroad could cut off foreign oil supplies and bring the US military machine to its knees that way.  

Biofuels from various feedstocks, such as algae, were developed and successfully demonstrated even to the point of a substitute for jet fuel in aircraft engines.  But when the strategic concerns eased, these fuels fell by the wayside.  While they are technically feasible, they are too expensive, a problem that has not been solved to date.

The high fiber cane was a feedstock that came out of this effort, and was found to have interesting XOS fractions.  Bush said these began to be explored after the biofuels mirage dried up.

Setting a deadline

In the history of the company, several dates have been proposed for achieving market scale.  Bush said with the new team in place, some firmer deadlines can now be put forward, with the big caveat that the global pandemic has made such forecasting harder to do.

“The plant is running at pilot scale now.  We expect the full scale production to be online in 10 to 12 months.  Our one big lead time item is a piece of equipment coming from a foreign manufacturer. Because of COVID, raw materials of all sorts are hard to come by right now,”​ he said.

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