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New company to research omega oils in Outer Hebrides

By Jess Halliday , 20-Jan-2006

The founders of omega oil company Equazen have taken the next step towards advancing research in the field of fatty acids with the formation of Equateq, which will operate out of a newly-aquired oil processing plant and research facility in the Outer Hebrides.

Adam Kelliher, CEO of both companies, told that the new sister company is a stand-alone operation. "The prime ethos is that there is not a company independently working on advanced research for fatty acids that we know of," he said.

"We wanted to create a company that has both ideas and practical applications."

Kelliher is confident of the commercial viability of the venture since Equazen will be its main customer, using at least 60 percent of the fatty acids produced. While the aim is not to be a bulk supplier, the remainder will be available for purchase by other companies. In particular Kelliher envisages use by the pharmaceutical sector; the facility is GMP approved and the compounds produced are pharmaceutical grade.

"Fatty acids impact on every area of human physiology," he said. So far, though, the main focus has been on fatty acids and brain function - Equazen's Eye Q product for is claimed to be the market leader in omega-3 supplements for children.

The company also makes Cardiozen for heart health, Mumomega for pregnant women and Qarma evening primrose oil supplements.

Kelliher said that Equateq will be "working its way down the list" of the health benefits of fatty acids. While he was not able to reveal details of research plans at this time, he said: "We blew the children's market open, and we intend to do the same with other markets."

Eye Q was developed in 1999, and Kelliher said that the product has been used in most of the research carried out by Universities into the effect of omega-3 on cognitive function in children since then.

Equazen experienced over 35 percent growth in complete turnover last year, and Kelliher cited figures that belie the huge potential of the omega-3 market: Euromonitor International estimates that the UK omega-3 supplement sector was worth £26 million at the end of 2005, and expects to reach £63.6 million by 2009.

Equazen also has some plans to take omega-3 into food products, but Kelliher said that loading is a problem. He said he has seen products claiming to contain omega-3 but in fact there is not very much in it.

"If we were marketing a product with just a smidgen of omega-3 in it, that would be patently dishonest," he said.

Due to the instability of omega-3, it has to be handled carefully in food applications to avoid the end product having a fishy taste or smell. Equazen is currently looking at delivery mechanisms that would help it deal with this problem.

Kelliher said that the plant, located at Callanish on the Scottish island of Lewis, is an extraordinarily high-tech facility that has been lying dormant for the past five years. The most recent owner, Biolitec Pharma, was not active in the fatty acids field so did not use that part of the plant. When Biolitec closed its doors in July 2005, all nine staff were laid off and the facility faced being broken up and auctioned off.

Equateq made job offers to all nine staff and operations will get underway with seven on board. Kelliher said it is a great advantage that they have worked at the plant in the past and have the operational know-how. He referred to the plant itself as the hardware, but said that, with their experience, the personnel are like the software that makes everything happen.

Quality assurance manager Annie McLeod said: "I was very frustrated that we had this fantastic facility and such well-trained people, and it looked like it was going to be shut down and all that collective expertise would have gone. We all have an emotional attachment to the plant, where we have worked for over 10 years, and now we can bring it back to being at the forefront of lipid research."

In the next year staff numbers are expected to double as laboratory staff are appointed.

The plant also has an emotional tie for Kelliher and his wife Cathra Horrobin, co-owner of Equateq and Equazen: it was built by Horrobin's father, the late Dr David Horrobin who founded Skotia Pharamceuticals.

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