ZeaVision holds five US patents on the carotenoid's use for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), but Kalsec VP sales and marketing Gary Hainrihar told NutraIngredients-USA.com that the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based company has licensed just one - for its use in nutritional supplements for ocular health with a doseage of 4mg or less.
"That is the one that has most commercial utility to us," he said.
Kalsec is the third company to be granted a license to ZeaVision's patent store, the other two being DSM Nutritional Products, which markets Optisharp synthetic zeaxanthin, and Chrysantis, which sources EZ Eyes from marigolds.
ZeaVision itself launched zeaxanthin-containing supplements in April 2002, now markered as Eye Promise.
But Kalsec believes its ingredient could open up the carotenoid for use in more products and markets. Since it is a naturally-derived pigment, it can be used in products with a natural claim on their labels. In some countries, such as Japan, synthetic zeaxanthin is not permitted.
Moreover, since it is derived from a GRAS (generally recognised as safe) foodstuff and is exempt from certification under the Code of Federal Regulations color additives reguations, ZeaGold can be used in functional food products as well as dietary supplements.
Like its cousin lutein, the carotenoid zeaxanthin, found in many fruits and vegetables, is thought to help protect the retina from the damaging effects of sunlight and oxidative stress and free radicals. Studies have indicated that dietary intake of 6mg of lutein and zeaxanthin can help protect against the onset of AMD, a progressive eye disease that affects the central macula of the eye leaving sufferers with only peripheral vision.
Most adults, however, get only 2 to 4 mg per day of lutein and zeaxanthin from their diet - a shortfall that has led to the popularity of eye health supplements.
In fact, some studies have indicated that the human body seems preferentially to deposit zeaxanthin in the retina over lutein, which has enjoyed better recognition for its eye health benefits.
Hainrihar said that Kalsec's ingredient has been in development for the last three years, but the company has been held back for want of a patent license.
Before DSM and Chrysantis were granted their licenses, ZeaVision was embroiled in a patent dispute with DSM. DSM's license was granted as part of the resolution of this dispute.
"The resolution has made people more comfortable with using zeaxanthin in their formulations," said Hainrihar.
Whilst unable to reveal ZeaGold sales targets, he said that zeaxanthin's potential in the eye heath market is "significant". The key markets are considered to be the US, Europe and Japan.
More than 10 million adults in the United States suffer from age-related macula degeneration, the leading cause of blindness amongst over-55s.