Q&A: ING2 co-founder on developing evolved ingredients for muscle, brain and gut health

By Asia Sherman

- Last updated on GMT

© Inside Creative House / Getty Images
© Inside Creative House / Getty Images

Related tags Energy focus muscle strength Gut health bioactives Sports & Active Nutrition Summit USA

Ingenious Ingredients (ING2), an innovation company focused on developing breakthrough bioactives, says it has hit lighting twice with its two first ingredients.

Enfinity (paraxanthine) launched last year with a “caffeine evolved” tagline, and RAMPS (dileucine) promises to speed up muscle protein synthesis as “the ultimate muscle peptide”. 

We caught up with Shawn Wells, one of the ING2’s four co-founders, who spoke about the synergy and scrutiny that goes into bringing a breakthrough idea out of incubation through proof-of-principle to clinical validation. The company is one of this year’s NutraIngredients-USA Start-up Stars​, which will be featured at the upcoming Sports and Active Nutrition Summit in San Diego, CA (Feb. 15-17).

How did the ING2 team come together?  What opportunity did you see?

Shawn Wells
Shawn Wells

Shawn Wells: ​We have known each other from the supplement industry for the better part of ten years, as well as through organizations like the International Society of Sports Nutrition.  Drs. Ralf Jäger and Martin Purpura had a reputation for guiding regulatory and research with their company Increnovo in finished products/CPG, as well as with branded ingredient distributors. [I was a formulator] with my company Zone Halo Formulations, bringing numerous unique formulas and ingredients to market, and I had already partnered up with Kylin Liao, CEO of NNB Nutrition, a top tier ingredient manufacturer.  

We collectively saw an opportunity to have all of us collaborate and vertically integrate.  We trusted each other and there was true synergy with this team.  Two ingredients were really the focus of the team at the inception, enfinity (paraxanthine) and RAMPS (dileucine).  We met in Florida in June 2017, formalized discussions in April 2018 and formed our entity on September 25, 2018. 

What goes into making and defines a breakthrough/evolved ingredient? 

We have four sharp minds that have about 70 years of experience in the industry, scientific pedigree and willingness to collaborate is part of it.  The ability to actually make the ingredients at cost, at scale with the highest quality and stability is another, with 70 scientists and over one million square feet of GMP facilities. 

There's a great idea that has science, efficacy and marketability that is on trend in the industry.  Also, we not only synergize, but we will challenge ideas and see how they hold up to intense scrutiny internally. Lastly, there's some luck, but we believe we have hit lightning in a bottle twice with our first two ingredients.

How many ingredients are you exploring at one time? How many have you explored to generate the two so far?  

Ralf Jäger
Ralf Jäger

Several are in the pipeline, but they may not make it to the point of commercialization. With the aforementioned scrutiny, our preclinical work, intellectual property landscape, internal trials, manufacturing feasibility, stability, organoleptic, etc., there's a number of places things can turn for the better or just get shelved. We are diligent in not wasting time or money and an ingredient that makes it through our process has a high likelihood of success with the clinicals, patent apps, safety/toxicology, commercialization/scale-up work with manufacturing (including equipment purchasing).

Could you speak briefly to the significance of the science behind the ingredients?  

With the paraxanthine (enfinity), the data is consistently showing it’s safer, less toxic and more efficacious than caffeine.  Given caffeine is the most important ingredient in human history and a one trillion-dollar market, we feel strongly we have a hit on our hands.  We are showing fewer mental errors, less anxiety and less side effects in general. 

The preclinical data showed improved BDNF (neuroplasticity), increased glutathione and catalase, reduced oxidative stress/ROS, higher dopamine, more adenosine inhibition, higher serotonin and decreased amyloid plaque. Another study near publishing is on fat loss/energy expenditure, as well as mood.  

Martin Purpura
Martin Purpura

As far as dileucine (RAMPS), we have data showing it is 186% faster than standard leucine, that 80% more leucine is found in muscle and that 60% more muscle protein synthesis is seen gram for gram.  We also have measured intact dileucine in plasma that may have further benefits that ongoing research will determine. Given the market on muscle growth with bodybuilding and sports nutrition, as well as clinical with cachexia and healthy aging with sarcopenia, we see this ingredient having massive potential – especially with vegan proteins that have about half the leucine as their animal sourced counterparts and therefore require twice the dose to optimize muscle protein synthesis.  RAMPS could solve this gap.  We have a training study coming in the next few months that will show what RAMPS can do with strength, muscle gain/hypertrophy in the healthy human model with resistance training. 

Where do you see the most opportunity in the sports and active nutrition category? 

Where we have started already.  Energy/focus/mood/brain health number 1 and muscle health/strength number 2.  From there, I think gut health, given that this is where the majority of immunity and neurotransmitters are, as well as digestion absorption of nutrients, it is critical to wellbeing on many fronts.

Kylin Liao
Kylin Liao

What is the next evolution for ING2? New ingredients in development?  

Growing the company as an incubator for ideas and getting to focus more on the science and exploration of novel and innovative ingredients. Working with a long-term partner on the distribution will allow us to have more core competency, even faster turnaround, and from the client perspective more verticality. There are about five ingredients in the pipeline going through our stringent stage gate process.  We have had some not meet our criteria for efficacy, manufacturing, costing, regulatory, intellectual property, etc. and so they get shelved or abandoned. There are some that are looking very likely now in brain health and joint health that we cannot speak to just yet. Stay tuned!

What other categories/unmet consumer needs is ING2 exploring? 

With energy, muscle health and brain health we are on track, but gut health is another we are exploring currently as well. Joint health and endurance are some others.

Who has ING2 partnered with for its ingredient launches to date, and how do you choose your partners?  

There's some exciting news coming in the coming weeks.  We will keep you posted here, but we cannot make the announcement just yet on the distributor side. As a client, we can say that Iovate (MuscleTech, Hydroxycut, Six Star, etc.) has been an amazing partner.  We choose partners that have similar ethics on science and safety first...then sales.  We cannot reverse that.  People are consuming these substances and putting their trust in us.  As companies and consumers, they believe these ingredients will be safe and do what they say. That's something at ING2 we take very seriously. We use these ingredients; our family and friends use these ingredients.  The industry looks to us, and we've earned a reputation that is built on these tenets.  We will never sacrifice this.  So, any partners we are with must align here as well.

How have RAMPS and enfinity been received?

Here's a text I received from a friend just now that used enfinity in a pre-workout called EuphorIQ from MuscleTech and has used other caffeine-based pre-workouts for years: “Love it!! Great Workout!! No jitters. Feeling GREAT!! I'm usually exhausted after my workout, but I feel like I can take on the world!” ​- Lindsay A. 

So, you can see, this reaction is not atypical, but I would say fairly standard without hyperbole, this is the experience. It's clean and efficacious. People feel a mood lift, energy, no crash, clarity and feel optimized. 

RAMPS is newer, not in a finished product yet (coming soon) and being tested, but the early feedback is more muscle and more strength in less time, which anyone training hard is excited about as well.

Sports & Active Nutrition Summit

The Sports & Active Nutrition Summit will be held in San Diego from Feb. 15-17. The Start-up Stars will present their companies, and industry leaders will discuss topics including the state of the market, quality and certifications, regulatory challenges, CBD, esports, personalized nutrition, and more. For more information and to register, please visit the Sports & Active Nutrition Summit-USA​ page.

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