ARCHIVED - NRC spinoff goes from beta to better
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June 01, 2010
Chemaphor Inc., an NRC spinoff company, is on track to improve your pet's quality of life — and possibly livestock as well — by marketing a nutraceutical-type product based on transformed beta-carotene.
The company is in the process of certifying its nutritional supplement for companion animals and hopes to clear federal regulatory hurdles by the end of 2010.
Chemaphor's chairman of the board and nutrisciences director, David Hankinson, says testing shows the oxidized beta-carotene product, called OxBC, boosts pets' immune systems and reduces tissue inflammation. But unlike antibiotics, it turns on immune systems only when illness or infection show up and challenge them.
"We call it a natural health enhancer because if you were perfectly healthy and were to ingest oxidized beta-carotene, very little would happen," says Hankinson. "However, OxBC ‘primes the pump' so that when the immune system is called upon, it's ready more quickly."
Pure beta-carotene occurs naturally in plants such as carrots and tomatoes. Plants can metabolize it, with a variety of enzyme-controlled oxidations, into a cocktail of other compounds upon which OxBC is based. Animals, especially those that forage for food, get these compounds from their diets. However, oxidized beta-carotene compounds rarely figure in the diets of most domestic animals. Chemaphor believes these overlooked compounds are equally important sources of beta-carotene‘s health benefits, the most well-known of which is vitamin A synthesis.
Chemaphor uses heat to produce OxBC in concentrated form from pure beta-carotene more quickly and consistently than plants do naturally. The process captures the many compounds that beta-carotene spontaneously forms when it reacts with oxygen. "It's a natural process that we accelerate and control to get the same end product each time," says Hankinson. "It's not beta-carotene any longer — it's a whole host of small, low-molecular-weight compounds mixed with higher-molecular-weight polymeric oxidation compounds. It's quite a complex mixture."
The product and oxidation process were developed at the NRC Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences (NRC-SIMS) in Ottawa. There, Chemaphor's founding partners, chemists Dr. Graham Burton and Dr. Janusz Daroszewski, investigated beta-carotene's potential anti-cancer properties in the mid-1990s. They turned to biologists, in particular to the NRC Institute for Nutrisciences and Health (NRC-INH) in Charlottetown, to help them systematically test and develop the compound's biology, which led in turn to the company becoming NRC-INH's first industry partner.
Chemaphor is now in the process of certifying OxBC as a nutraceutical supplement for pets such as cats and dogs. Initial testing shows that it helps reduce shedding and may also ease aging, aching joints in older animals.
The company's partnership with NRC-INH is a big help in speeding the regulatory process. "One of their people, Dr. Jim Johnston, acts as a mentor for us," says Hankinson. "He has been very helpful in terms of saying ‘try this' or ‘look at that'."
When OxBC is certified safe for companion animals as expected, Chemaphor plans next to certify it for use in poultry, swine and cattle. Oxidized beta-carotene may eventually be approved for human use — Hankinson says it shows early promise as a human skin rejuvenator. However, that is still years and many regulatory steps in the future.
"Our focus at the moment is to have the pet nutraceutical on the market, because we do know that it's safe and it works," he says. "We're quite far along in testing for food animals. And I think there are also some potential applications in aquaculture that we're just starting to explore. We're doing a lot of interesting stuff, but we're crawling before we walk — making sure we have absolutely all the foundations correct."
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