Special Edition: Pregnancy & Development

EU-approved, lower cost, evidence-backed: Do HMOs signify a new era of infant nutrition?

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Has industry investment into the development of human milk oligosaccharides, or HMOs, produced an ingredient capable of bridging the gap between formula and human breast milk?

The complex carbohydrate—a key component of human breast milk—has been linked to a healthy microbiota, the warding off of harmful pathogens, and boosting immune development.

The first half of this year has seen a number of EU regulatory approvals for synthetic HMOs, paving the way for their inclusion into a new wave of infant-focused formulas.

In May, Dutch-based FrieslandCampina Domo joined fellow formula manufacturers DuPont Nutrition and Health in March in gaining Novel Food approval in the EU for its HMO 2’-fucosyllactose (2’-FL).

Until recently, HMOs were not available in larger quantities from sources such as cow’s milk. The few that could be chemically synthesized were prohibitively expensive.

According to market research firm Innova, digestive/gut health was the primary claim associated with infant formula launches in 2015.

It was also featured in 58% of all launches in the market as the past five years have seen the use of prebiotics in infant formulas dramatically increase.

Enter GNUBiotics

Over 200 different varieties of HMOs have been identified in human milk, of which 2’-FL is the most prevalent.

Along with Lacto-N-neotetraose ((LNnT), these remain the only two HMOs to be successfully commercialised.

GNUBiotics, a Swiss-based biotechnology firm, are developing new HMOs, composed of up to 130 different microbiota-accessible carbohydrates (MACs) for the global nutrition market.

According to the company’s founder and CEO, Jean-Philippe Kunz, these MACs can be selectively utilised by specific bacteria present in the infant’s microbiome.

These formulations also contain the unique structures also found in natural HMOs such as the fucose blood group H and the 3- and 6-linked sialic acid.

These structures are highly important as they can act as a ‘dock’ for disease-causing bacteria.

GNUBiotics also discuss the manufacturing approach used that could enable the availability of diverse HMOs to infants worldwide.

In response to the rising demand for healthier foods, Gnubiotics’ HMO formulations have shown efficacy in preventing gut infection onset and offer protection against the effect of antibiotic use.

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