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Friday 20 May 2022

Fonterra partners with US biotech “founding father” in designer dairy push

5th November 2021 By Bridget O'Connell | | @foodtickernz

Fonterra has teamed up with world-leading US biotechnology company VitaKey to develop a portfolio of designer dairy products as part of its drive up the value chain.

Dr Robert Langer

The dairy cooperative has contracted the company founded by biotech entrepreneur and co-founder of Covid-19 vaccine maker Moderna, Dr Robert Langer, to work on its probiotic strains initially.

VitaKey specialised in precision delivery of nutrition – an emerging area of research that seeks to deliver the right nutrients, in the right amount, to the right part of the body at the right time. Its Langer Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is the largest academic biomedical engineering lab in the world.

Fonterra said it was looking to design dairy products that incorporated targeted and time-controlled release of specific dairy nutrients, starting with probiotics, but with other additions such as vitamin D also on its radar. The exporter also wanted to extend the shelf life of these products.

No price was given for the contract.

The collaboration is part of the dairy giant’s strategic reset, which would see it transition away from its commodity ingredients business and invest in its higher value active living ingredients business.

As part of its 2030 plan, Fonterra said it planned to increase its investment in research and development by more than 50% to $160m a year by 2030. It earmarked $60m of that to develop active living products for advanced sports, active, healthy ageing and medical nutrition ingredients.

“By partnering with VitaKey, we aim to ‘make nature better’ by combining the goodness of our New Zealand milk with VitaKey’s technology,” Fonterra’s Asia Pacific region chief executive Judith Swales said.

“In this way, we can really drive our Active Living business by appealing to the growing health and wellness consumer segment that desire the maximum functional benefits from food and are motivated by scientific credibility.”

It also allowed Fonterra to do more with less at a time when milk volumes were stagnating, and could possibly decrease in the future.

“Because the nutrients are encapsulated and highly targeted, it also means we can use less milk in our production, making our milk go further while reducing food waste,” Swales added.

Fonterra said the first step in the collaboration aimed to stabilise probiotics and deliver them to the digestive tract.

This would leverage related technology from MIT developed in Langer Lab – the same technology that NASA might use one day to deliver probiotics to astronauts in a planned mission to Mars.

Fonterra has one of the largest dairy culture libraries in the world with more than 40,000 strains at its Palmerston North Research and Development Centre.

Two of these strains, LactoB 001 and BifidoB 019, address key health concerns such as digestive issues and immunity and are recognised as being in the top five global probiotics.

The VitaKey delivery platform has already been shown to preserve and enhance 11 different micronutrients, including Vitamin D, A, B12, and C as well as iron, zinc, niacin, and folic acid.

Fonterra said it would be looking to use the VitaKey technology across a range of micronutrients, such as Vitamin D, and introduce them into its products.

Dr Robert Langer has extensive experience in commercialising science, resulting in more than 40 biotech companies worth an estimated market value of $250bn, earning him the reputation of being the founding father of drug delivery and controlled-release technology.

He said his vision for Fonterra and VitaKey working together was “to do something that really can change the world, rather than something incremental”.



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