New Zealand: Science backs new health product technology

A group of New Zealand scientists is about to achieve payback for a decade of research to find ways of keeping health-promoting bacteria alive at room temperature without the need for constant refrigeration.

As a result of their world leading research, new health products that encapsulate some of New Zealand’s prized natural products with unique strains of bacteria that provide clinically proven health benefits are ready for launching on the international market.

The unique micro encapsulation process developed by Auckland-based Drapac opens significant opportunities for New Zealand to convert raw natural extracts into new high value products.

The new probiotic micro encapsulation technology enables armies of friendly bacteria that boost healthy functioning of the human body to remain active and fully effective at room temperature, giving them greater shelf life. This process is also likely to result in creating an expanding range of functional foods – foods with health benefits above that supplied by common nutrients – to promote health and prevent disease.

Drapac is targeting ingredients such as milk extracts, kiwifruit and other natural products to encapsulate with its probiotic bacteria. Scientific research validates the health claims of the emerging products, giving them superior value over ordinary health supplements that do not contain living or probiotic organisms.

Shelf-life stability without refrigeration has been a major block to expanding the international market for such products because the viable number of good bacteria decreases rapidly at room temperature, reducing beneficial effects.

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology is investing in Drapac’s technology. Drapac is targeting the lucrative Asian market and Foundation Business Manager Rebecca Sanders says it is a coup for New Zealand to break into such a highly regulated market.

“This is excellent technology that lifts New Zealand’s status as a world player in biotechnology research and it creates new earning potential by combining unique New Zealand products with Drapac’s probiotic strains.

“Drapac’s clear channels into the Chinese and other Asian markets, which are mass markets where consumers are prepared to pay a premium for using New Zealand natural products, give the company the potential to earn high value returns quite quickly,” she says.

Drapac’s Innovation Manager Ian Gray says the company is specialising in commercialising health-promoting products made from natural raw materials, based on proven health effects. Drapac has identified 300 unique strands of health enhancing bacteria and has completed clinical trials on five, which are being commercialised.

The global market for clinically proven nutraceutical products is growing annually at around 12 per cent, which is double the growth for health supplements. Mr Gray says Drapac’s probiotic products add around 400 per cent value to New Zealand’s bulk raw product.

Mr Gray attributes some of the developmental success to the investment from the Foundation, saying the micro encapsulation technology can now be used to leverage other products for export.

For the Foundation, Rebecca Saunders says it is an opportunity to support a company to compete in mass lucrative markets and integrate into the global economy while creating and retaining new scientific capability in New Zealand.

The next phase is to use the nano encapsulation to carry specific health promoting ingredients, where the micro bead adheres to the gut wall, a bit like a bullet, giving the consumer more immediate benefits.

The company’s first products incorporating the new technology are for immune stimulation, joint health and for skin health, with the main focus on heart, gut and the immune system.

“Drapac scientists have been researching this technology for more than 10 years and their efforts are beginning to return dividends,” says Mr Gray.

“It adds valuable intellectual property (IP) to New Zealand’s growing portfolio of biotechnology IP success, adds significant value to raw products and provides graduating scientists and researchers with new opportunities to develop world-class capabilities.”

Drapac currently has two post-graduate students, supported by Foundation Technology in Industry Fellowship investment, who are conducting specific research relating to encapsulation technology. The company is offering six doctorate positions in 2007 and will work closely with the University of Auckland to further develop its technologies.

Mr Gray says Drapac is investing millions of dollars in probiotic science. Its first order from China for its new product range is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with other orders in the pipeline.


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