GraceLinc, which makes the ingredient, said today that the increasing use of its beta-glucan provides a "huge endorsement" to the effectiveness of the product, and that the deal with Barilla marked a "milestone" for the commercial development of the ingredient. If the agreement between Barilla and GraceLinc pays off, the announcement could give added incentive for researching further beta-glucan ingredients By beta-glucan being positioned at the heart market, GraceLinc will be taking advantage of a massive health issue - cardiovascular disease causes almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe, and is reported to cost the EU economy an estimated €169 billion ($202 billion) per year. GraceLinc chief executive John Morgan says that with this move the ingredient will be available in Europe, Australia, and North America. Barley beta-glucan is a soluble fibre (non-starch polysaccharide) found naturally in the cell walls of barley. It is said to show multiple health benefits. In the small intestine beta-glucan forms a highly viscous solution that slows down the absorption of cholesterol, fatty acids, bile acids and glucose, resulting in lower levels in the blood, GraceLinc said. It added that in the large intestine, beta-glucan acts as prebiotic, naturally boosting good bacteria in the intestine to keep the digestive system healthy and enhance natural immunity. Morgan said an important aspect of Glucagel's appeal lies in its ability to be added to foods to provide health benefits without changing the sensory appeal of foods or the production process. He said: "This, combined with its high purity, is attracting multi-national food companies to our ingredient." He added that Italian food company Barilla evaluated other beta-glucan's before selecting Glucagel, and will include a heart health claim on the packaging. The brioche and bread are part of Barilla's Alixir healthy food range. Barilla has invested three years and €10 million into the development of the new range. Morgan said: "Glucagel provides an excellent option for many of these companies as it is a natural product, naturally extracted and sits within a category that can show scientifically proven beneficial health properties. These soluble fibres can help lower cholesterol and act as a prebiotic, helping digestive function. "GraceLinc and the products we offer are being taken very seriously by the international food markets as our list of sales grows, and as large companies evaluate our products." GraceLinc has also been involved with an Australian beverage company CSR Ethanol, which uses Glucagel as an ingredient for its health drink, available in Australia. Glucagel is distributed in Europe and North America by DKSH and in Japan by the ADEKA Corporation. Last month Spanish biotech firm Natraceutical entered the beta-glucan market with the acquisition of the high concentrate ingredient Viscofiber. The firm hopes the ingredient will spread into Europe and other countries such as Japan and Australia. Sales are expected to reach €15m by 2012. Beta-glucan is attracting a wealth of science supporting its health roles. Researchers last year found that consuming foods containing beta-glucan could reduce the insulin and glucose response after a meal, thereby easing a risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And in 2005 researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School's Hypertension and Cholesterol Research Clinic suggested that barley beta-glucan has cholesterol-lowering properties similar to those of oats. GraceLinc is a subsidiary of the New Zealand government-owned research company, Crop & Food Research.