Unilever builds R&D with designer molecule partnership

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Unilever

Unilever takes another leap into open innovation
Unilever takes another leap into open innovation
Unilever has entered an undisclosed two-year partnership with New Jersey-base drug molecule designer and developer BioLeap, but says it has no intention of moving into drug-related activity.

The company has not been specific about how it plans to utilise the designer molecules in its €40bn product portfolio, but BioLeap’s work in the biology of ageing was noted.

Spokesperson Trevor Gorin said the development of healthier food products would form part of the collaboration between the two company’s scientists.

“What this signals is our co-creation approach to R&D, working with companies like BioLeap rather than buying them,” ​Gorin told NutraIngredients this morning. “In the old days such work might have been kept in-house, but there are so many specialists it makes sense to work with them. But while they develop drug molecules, it is the application of them in other areas like food and household products that interests us.”

In a statement the company said: “As consumer demand for healthy living and ageing products increases, Unilever is strategically positioning itself to meet this need through combining its own considerable R&D resource with complimentary technical assets. BioLeap’s molecular-design technology will enable Unilever to build differentiated, health enhancing products spanning several categories.”

Molecular prediction

BioLeap’s technology predicts the behaviour of molecules which has the potential to reduce R&D time and increase potential application accuracy be it food items, domestic products or anything else.

Unilever has demonstrated its commitment to this open innovation approach by joining British entrepreneur Richard Branson in investing in Californian algae oil developer, Solazyme, last September. One of the targets there is the development of sustainable palm oil alternatives.

In October it formed a five-year alliance with Silicon Valley-based Ampere Life Sciences to access the company’s digital biology technology platform, with a focus on anti-ageing.

Unilever has six in-house labs – three in Europe, two in Asia and one in the US – which are engaging in a scientific dialogue with the companies it is working with.

Health-conscious consumers

In a statement, Unilever chief R&D officer Genevieve Berger said the initiatives were in part a response to the changing demands of increasingly health-conscious consumers.

“This collaboration with BioLeap is another example of the commitment at Unilever to partner innovators from outside the business with specific biotech assets and knowledge with our own in-house science and development experts based in our six core laboratories across the world,”​ she sauid.

“I see the key benefits of this collaboration with BioLeap being the development of superior products across a number of categories and exclusivity that will potentially give us competitive advantage in the marketplace.”

Related topics: Manufacturers, Functional foods

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