Shiitake mushrooms are indigenous to Japan and other Asian countries, where the usually spring up on fallen deciduous trees - but are now cultivated in Europe and commonly available in supermarket for culinary use. They are a rich source of the beta-glucan lentinan, which has been researched for its immune-boosting potential.
MediMush's ingredient, called Lentinex, is produced by fermentation of the mycelium. It is described as a clear light brown liquid that is rich in the beta-glucan lentinan, and envisaged for use in dietary supplements as a product that is "free from fungal cellular debris, has a long shelf-life and offers consumers an increased choice when selecting beta-glucan containing products."
As part of its novel foods substantial equivalence application through the UK's Food Standards Agency, MediMush cites one other, similar source of lentinan for the supplements market that is sold in the EU by Malaysian company BioLife Marketing.
BioLife's product was 'grandfathered in' under the novel foods legislation, since it was available prior to May 1997.
MediMush's product is already sold in the US, and it has been putting the necessary structures in place for a European launch over the past 18 months.
Last year it signed an agreement with Sweden's Bringwell for use of the lentinan extract in supplements, which was followed by a second, with Swedish dairy company Skanemejerier to develop immune-boosting products based on its extract for the Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic and Norwegian markets.
Last July Skane managing director Rolf Bjerndell said the company was planning to launch its first shiitake-based food "within one to two years".
The agreement is valid for Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway.
The MediMush technology cultivates medicinal mushrooms in submerged culture, allowing it to manufacture ingredients with purity above 99 per cent. In the standard lentinan extraction process, as much as 1000 kg of fresh shiitake mushrooms may be needed to extract 155 g lentinan. By comparison, the Danish firm says it can manufacture 240 grams of pure lentinan in one batch from its 1500 litre fermentor.
MediMush claims to have a pipeline of 30 candidates for new agents, and is aiming to become a leading supplier of medicinal mushroom ingredients to both the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries.
Japan already markets a number of anti-cancer drugs derived from mushrooms. In 2002, a report from the UK charity Cancer Research UK suggested that compounds derived from mushrooms could have a "hugely beneficial influence" on the way cancer is treated.