Startup Spotlight

Q&A: Fatty15 founders talk dolphins and saturated fats for global health

By Asia Sherman

- Last updated on GMT

© Photo courtesy of fatty15
© Photo courtesy of fatty15

Related tags Fatty acids Essential fatty acid Fatty acid metabolomics startups

From healthy aging in dolphins to taking on the omega-3 competition, Eric and Stephanie Venn-Watson discussed how novel saturated fats may just be the answer to restoring global health.

Based in San Diego, both had committed over a decade to the discovery of C15:0, promoted as the first essential fatty acid isolated since omega-3 and omega-6 – Stephanie with her background as a veterinary epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization and Eric as a three-war military veteran and Navy physician.  

The odd-chain saturated fatty acid (aka pentadecanoic acid) is now the single ingredient in the fatty15 formula, which the husband-wife team launched direct-to-consumer in 2021 under Seraphina Therapeutics Inc. 

Their current mission: to overcome nutritional deficiencies by reintroducing C15:0 into the human diet and to neutralize negative connotations by raising awareness about how certain fats actually help ward off a full suite of aging-related metabolic conditions.

NIU: What went into building the brand? What was your approach to market?

EVW: Upon discovering C15:0 as the first essential fatty acid​ to be found since alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3) and linoleic acid (an omega-6), which was over 90 years ago, we were given a remarkable task, equivalent to bringing a new vitamin to the market. 

Starting with exclusively licensed patents from the U.S. Navy to commercialize C15:0 as a supplement, ingredient and pharmaceutical for humans and all other animals, we developed a smartly-branded, high-end and science-backed direct-to-consumer supplement called fatty15. 

The opportunity to truly improve global health allowed us to recruit a dedicated and talented board of directors​ and marketing team built around a culture of greater good and purpose. 

Following a key study​ demonstrating fatty15 as having three times more cellular benefits than omega-3, Seraphina launched a David vs. Goliath campaign to boldly take on its closest and largest competitors: omega-3 fish oil supplements. 

NIU: Could you share a bit about fatty15’s dolphin connection? 

SVW: I was studying a half-century longitudinal cohort of long-lived, large-brained Navy dolphins that develop aging-associated conditions similar to humans (dolphins can develop the same diseases, have high cholesterol, chronic inflammation and even prediabetes) when I made a ground-breaking discovery. 

After spending 10 years as Director of the Translational Medicine & Research Program for the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, I unexpectedly discovered that an odd-chain saturated fat in the dolphins’ all-fish diets, called C15:0, predicted the healthiest aging individuals. Further, increasing dolphins’ dietary C15:0 levels alleviated anemia​, a biomarker of accelerated aging​ in dolphins. This led me to discover the first essential fatty acid to be found in 90 years, C15:0 (aka fatty15).

NIU: What sets fatty15 apart on the market/in the healthy aging category?

Venn-Watsons _fatty15
fatty15 founders Stephanie and Erick Venn-Watson

SVW: The science behind many anti-aging compound candidates has been based on experiments performed on short-lived species, such as mice, worms and flies. Unfortunately, the promise of many of these anti-aging and longevity supplements have not come to fruition when applied to human studies. 

By comparison, Seraphina Therapeutics is advancing healthy aging supplements containing novel ingredients based on groundbreaking discoveries made from studying a half-century longitudinal cohort of long-lived, large-brained Navy dolphins that develop aging-associated conditions like humans, despite living in the same environment, eating only fish and getting optimal healthcare.

By applying advanced technologies, including metabolomics, to study thousands of small molecules present in long-lived mammals, Seraphina is discovering which small molecules are most important to promote healthy aging and longevity, starting with pentadecanoic acid (aka C15:0) in Seraphina’s fatty15 supplement. 

NIU: What is the difference between fatty15 and omega-3?

EVW: While fish oil has been the primary source to deliver the other two essential fatty acids (an omega-3 and an omega-6), fish oil supplements have been wrought with quality and sustainability issues, including heavy metal contaminants, oil rancidity and overfishing.

As a result of these quality issues, while pure omega-3 pharmaceuticals appear to be effective in preventing heart disease, the National Institutes of Health has concluded that off-the-shelf fish oil supplements have failed to demonstrate meaningful benefits in most large-scale studies. 

We developed FA15, the first ever pure C15:0 ingredient, to provide a high-quality (99% pure) C15:0 powder that is stable, safe, science-backed, plant-based and sustainable. Further, a peer-reviewed study​ showed that FA15 had 36 clinically relevant cellular benefits, which was three times more than the purest, highest-performing omega-3 (EPA).

NIU: What are the science-backed benefits of fatty15?

SVW: C15:0 serves as an armor for our cells to improve cellular hallmarks of aging including cellular senescence, inflammaging, mitochondrial dysfunction and poor cellular signaling. It is currently being benchmarked by a third-party against three leading longevity drug candidates (rapamycin, metformin, and acarbose).

It has also been shown to lower glucose, cholesterol and inflammation; as well as attenuate liver iron overload, liver fibrosis and anemia in mammalian models of type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (when provided fatty15 daily orally for 12 weeks). A randomized, double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial with fatty15 is underway at the University of California San Diego to evaluate the effect on young adults at risk for metabolic syndrome. 

In addition, dozens of large-scale population studies associate higher C15:0 concentrations with lower pro-inflammatory states and resulting benefits for metabolic, heart, immune, liver and joint health.

NIU: How does FA15 slow aging-related breakdown in cells? 

SVW: As we age, our cell membranes become more fragile. Cell membranes protect our cells from external stressors and help keep cells sturdy. When our cell membranes weaken, so do our cells' functionalities. C15:0 is a sturdy, odd-chain, saturated fatty acid that integrates itself into cell membranes to fortify and strengthen them, giving them better protection against oxidative stress and cellular degradation than omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that C15:0 supplementation improved cellular stability by 80%​.

Mitochondrial dysfunction is a key hallmark of aging that drives cellular breakdown and contributes to the onset of chronic diseases. C15:0 increases mitochondrial function by up to 45%​, keeping our cells active and ensuring they’re able to carry out cellular processes as they should. The mitochondria produce ATP, your cell’s energy currency. In studies, C15:0 was able to increase ATP by up to 350%​. 

C15:0 is also helpful in assisting with clearing damaged cells. C15:0 activates AMPK​ and inhibits mTOR​,  which are important mechanisms to slowing cellular senescence and clearing damaged cells. AMPK is also essential in regulatory processes, like glucose uptake. 

NIU: Why should people not avoid saturated fat? What saturated fat should we be eating?

EVW: Some fats are essential for our body to function properly. Saturated fats initially got the worst rap, primarily because some saturated fats are linked to an increase in bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, inflammation, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But there’s a caveat: not all saturated fats are bad, and recent evidence supports that some are beneficial and even essential for maintaining our health and wellness. Even-chain saturated fatty acids (especially C16:0 and C18:0) have an even number of carbon atoms. They are associated with the negative health markers that make us avoid saturated fats, including increased risk for heart disease​, inflammation​ and type 2 diabetes​. Even-chain saturated fatty acids are found in red meat, full fat dairy and palm oil.

However, odd-chain saturated fatty acids have an odd number of carbon atoms in their molecular structure and are actually associated with a lower risk of heart disease, inflammation and type 2 diabetes. Odd-chain saturated fatty acids can be found in the same foods as even-chain saturated fatty acids, which makes it difficult to get the good saturated fatty acids without the bad. 

The solution: you can get all the odd-chain saturated fatty acid you need by taking a once-a-day dose of fatty15.

NIU: Who is your target consumer? 

EVW: As an essential fatty acid, C15:0 is emerging as essential for all ages. Our target consumer is the 35+ year old who is feeling the pain points of aging and who also serves as an ambassador of health for the family, including children and parents.

NIU: How is fatty15 performing?  What is next for fatty15?

EVW: Fatty15 has earned awareness from TEDx, The New York Times, Forbes, CNET, Insider, First for Women and more. The product initially sold out within six weeks and had a months-long backorder list, and we have a 95% average monthly customer retention rates.

We will be initiating an education campaign to increase consumers’ awareness of the extensive science behind fatty15 (C15:0) as an essential nutrient to support long-term health and wellness. In addition, Seraphina will be expanding fatty15 as a food and beverage ingredient to support healthy aging.

NIU: What is your advice to other startups in the industry?

SVW: Follow the science, seek out the skeptics and use their input to further the science. It is important to ensure that your specific formulation has been tested (not just the ingredients in your formulation), with positive results that have been published under peer review. Consumers are rightly demanding science-backed nutrients and supplements, and the most successful companies will be those who deliver on that science (yes, we are nerds here at Seraphina).

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