Dutch start-up bags DSM funds for immune ingredient ‘shelved’ by Unilever

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

'I see Nutraleads as a company capitalising on promising leads that don’t go somewhere fast enough,' says start-up CEO
'I see Nutraleads as a company capitalising on promising leads that don’t go somewhere fast enough,' says start-up CEO

Related tags Novel food ingredient Food European food safety authority

Dutch start-up Nutrileads has secured seed financing from four investors including DSM, which it plans to use to develop an immunity ingredient previously developed by Unilever.

The investment syndicate, which included the investment arm of nutrition giant DSM, Dutch regional venture capital company PPM Oost and investment firms Shift Invest and Thuja Capital, got a minority share in return for the undisclosed sum.

Nutrileads’s main ingredient is an ‘Immune Modulating Plant Polysaccharide-1’, IMPP 1, which was originally developed by British-Dutch multinational Unilever.

NutriLeads CEO Dr Ruud Albers was formerly nutrition and health R&D director at Unilever and worked for about eight years on the fibre ingredient that was first isolated from the traditional herbal ginseng. 

However, after years of significant investment Unilever decided to drop the ingredient. 

Albers founded NutriLeads in 2011 and finally acquired all rights to the ingredient including global patents in 2012.

Nutraleads and Dutch research group, NIZO Food Research, received a grant in 2013 to start the preclinical development of IMPP 1, which is now derived from different undisclosed food crop sources. 

Albers started working for Unilever as a research scientist in 1998 and, in his experience of the food industry, “there are a number of interesting leads being shelved for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with their promise”. 

The long game

He told us his company would play the “long-term game”​, seeking to ‘pick up’ promising health ingredient leads that were neglected by the commercial or academic community.

“I see Nutraleads as a company capitalising on promising leads that don’t go somewhere, or don’t go somewhere fast enough,”​ he said.

Catching wind of such ingredients set to be ‘shelved’ along with their potential would come from either public information or food industry network whispers.  

Albers said there was a "clear need"​ for new ingredients on a public health level, yet new ingredients required investment of money and effort.

IMPP 1 for example would currently be classed as a novel food ingredient in Europe. Nutraleads was therefore planning to submit an application for novel food approval for use in food supplements and functional and medical foods. 

It would also apply for Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status in the US. 

The company says the ingredient supports immune function and improve resistance to infections. 

It would also be submitting a health claim dossier for immune function to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which if successful would enable such claims to be made on pack. 

Further clinical testing would also be conducted. 

Thuja Capital said in a release: "NutriLeads combines experienced management and deep knowledge with interesting assets initially identified at Unilever. We have recognized this as an exciting opportunity to create value for both patients/consumers as well as investors.​" 

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