Earlier today, Netherlands-based DSM announced that after years of consideration the European Patent Office (EPO) has approved the November 2006-filed patent application relating to its arylsulfatase-free Maxilact lactase enzyme.
Arylsulfatase is an impurity found in lactase that converts components naturally present in milk to cause off-flavors in and limit the shelf life of lactose-free dairy products.
Speaking exclusively with DairyReporter.com, Merel Roes, marketing manager of Maxilact, said that the application was approved despite heavy opposition from rivals.
“It was filed in 2006, so quite a long time ago,” said Roes. “During the process, several oppositions were received. The EPO reviewed these and said that regardless of the comments the concept is novel and granted the patent.”
“It will give us exclusive use of the concept until November 2026.”
“The patent means that DSM is the only one in the region that can supply lactase with these characteristics,” she said.
Leading lactose-free brands
Lactose intolerance is the genetic inability to digest lactose.
Lactase enzymes like Maxilact break down - or hydrolyze - lactose into glucose and galactose, producing a lactose-free dairy product. The difference between Maxilact and other available lactase enzymes is that the DSM ingredient does not contain arylsulfatase.
This, according to DSM, enables manufacturers to formulate lactose-free dairy products that do not exhibit any off-flavor.
“Several years ago, before we filed the patent, we noticed the off-flavor in lactose-free milk,” said Roes. “We couldn’t attribute it to any component in milk, so we looked at lactase.”
Following “several years of development” Maxilact was launched in 2008. Since then “most of the leading brands in the lactose-free market are making products using this technology,” said Roes.
“Our customers have told us that they see an improvement in the shelf life of their lactose-free products with this enzyme. They often describe this improvement as clean taste.”
“This means that there is no apparent taste and it tastes as natural as normal milk,” she said.
Lactose-intolerance among European consumers is fairly low, although a trend of self-diagnosis in recent years has led to an increase in demand for lactose-free dairy products in the region.
Demand is also increasing in Asia, where experts believe lactose intolerance rates among consumers could be as high as 90%.
With global demand for lactose-free dairy products increasing, the EPO decision to grant DSM the patent couldn’t have come at a better time, said Roes
“We see strong growth in the Asian market and with our customers in Europe and the US who are looking to export to countries in Asia like China,” she said.