Martek and DHA: good results and a healthy future

Related tags Dha Essential fatty acid Omega-3 fatty acid Fatty acid Martek

After a successful third quarter, Martek Biosciences will be hoping
that the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) announcement last
week that conventional foods will now be able to display a
qualified health claim for omega-3 fatty acids, will give their
sales an extra end-of-year boost.

Martek achieved revenues of $47.3 million for the third quarter, up from $29.1 million last year. For the same period, the company earned a net income of $5 million, or $0.16 per diluted share, compared to $4.6 million or $0.16 per diluted share in 2003.

"New production capacity coming on-line as well as increased efficiencies and economies of scale should allow rapid growth to continue with increasing gross profit margins in the coming quarters,"​ said Henry Linsert, CEO of Martek.

To this end, the firm has recently expanded its research and development and sales capacity. R&D development expenses increased by $1.5 million to the same period last year.

The company attributed a significant portion of this increase to higher sales of nutritional products to infant formula licensees. Approximately 90 percent of Martek's third quarter nutritional product sales in 2004 were generated from sales of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) to four of the Company's infant formula licensees, namely Mead Johnson, Wyeth, Abbott Laboratories and Nestle.

Martek, which manufactures DHA from microalgae, is working with conventional food manufacturers to include its DHA in their products. The company can only benefit from the FDA's decision to allow conventional foods to carry a qualified health claim stating that they may help to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) - until last week, only supplements containing eiscosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids were able to state this.

Martek had petitioned the FDA in November 2003 about the claim.

"This will help further educate consumers about DHA's beneficial role in reducing cardiovascular disease risk,"​ said Linsert. "I believe that this is one more step toward the realization that DHA has multiple benefits for people throughout life."

"Coronary heart disease is a significant health problem that causes 500,000 deaths annually in the US,"​ said Dr. Lester Crawford, acting FDA commissioner. "This health claim should help consumers to improve their health by identifying foods that contain these important compounds."

Martek's confidence in the health-giving properties of its products was already at a high after studies in mice at the University of California, Los Angeles had shown earlier this month that its DHA supplementsmight protect against Alzheimer's disease.

Gregg Cole and colleagues from UCLA tested the effects of dietary depletion or enhancement of DHA on transgenic mice engineered to have the human version of a mutant amyloid precursor protein (APP)- the source of the brain-clogging protein in Alzheimer's disease.

When the researchers restricted dietary fatty acids in the transgenic mice, they detected a decreased level of DHA in the brains of the transgenic animals compared to normal mice.

They also detected a comparative increase in damage to the dendrites, structural proteins on neurons that take in chemical signals from neighbouring neurons to trigger nerve impulses.

And they saw evidence that reduced DHA caused increased oxidative stress in the transgenic animals, which could cause damage. When they supplemented the animals with DHA, however, they found a protection against such damage.

In behavioural studies, the researchers also found that the transgenic mice on low-DHA diets showed 'profound performance deficits' in learning and remembering the location of hidden, submerged platforms in a tank called the Morris water maze. Supplementing the mice with DHA, however, prevented this deficit.

"The present results provide, for the first time, evidence that the combination of genetic (mutant human APP) and environmental risk factors (dietary essential fatty acids) for Alzheimer's can act synergistically to quantitatively reduce synaptic proteins, specifically, dendritic scaffold proteins, that are critical for cognition as evidenced by memory deficits observed in the Morris water maze paradigm,"​ write the researchers in the 2 September issue of Neuron (volume 43, no 5, pp 633-645).

"The results show a dramatic impact of diet on the expression of the Alzheimer's disease-related postsynaptic marker phenotype and provide new insight into how essential fatty acid intake may modulate the expression of neurodegenerative diseases, including AD,"​ they wrote.

The researchers also wrote that their findings "suggest that patients bearing a genetic risk of AD may be more vulnerable to a lack of essential fatty acids,"​ which tend to be reduced in the brain both in normal againg and Alzheimer's disease.

They concluded that their findings "support the idea that increased DHA intake should be considered as a potential neuroprotective strategy for Alzheimer's disease"​.

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