Editor's Spotlight: Startup Focus

‘Designer protein’ scientist plans sweet success in sports nutrition

By Nikki Cutler

- Last updated on GMT

istock / adrian825
istock / adrian825
An Israeli scientist is aiming to enter the sports nutrition industry with his healthy ‘designer protein’ sweetener that is cheaper than sugar.

Ilan Samish, Ph.D,  founder of the biotech startup Amai Proteins (‘Amai’ is ‘sweet’ in Japanese), attended the Future Food Tech summit in London last week to present his healthy non-GMO zero-calorie protein that is sweeter and cheaper than sugar.

The former protein researcher with a Ph. D from Weizmann institute of Science explained he has redesigned sweet proteins like those found in fruits in the dark depths of exotic forests.

“Sweet protein naturally exist in exotic fruits found on plants under the shade of taller trees,” he explained.

“In order to reproduce they had to attract animals which would eat their fruits and spread their seeds through the jungle through the animals’ faeces. In order to attract the animals into the dark depths of the forest they had to be very sweet and better than sugar.”

Whilst sugar and traditional sugar substitutes are made of small molecules digested by the liver or kidneys, Amai Protein is made of healthy macromolecules used for building body tissue and it does not trigger the same insulin response as sugar or sweeteners.

Samish points out that the American Heart Association has advised that ‘there is a dearth of evidence on the potential adverse effects of low-calorie-sweetened beverages relative to potential benefits’ and so his product will appeal to anyone who wants to remain healthy.

“We identified the functional market as one where there’s a greater need for a healthy sugar substitute, particularly within isotonic drinks and whey protein drinks both of which can taste disgusting.”

Designer protein

Ilan Samish presenting at Future Food Tech
Ilan Samish presenting at Future Food Tech

Sweet proteins have been created before, but they have been costly to produce and there have been challenges with availability, stability and taste profile. Using computational protein design, Samish has redesigned the sequence of the amino acid ‘beads’ of the proteins to make them around 2,000 times sweeter than sugar. Production by fermentation has enabled the protein to be produced at less than one quarter of the price of sugar.

The confident entrepreneur even promises his sweeteners won’t bring the typical bitter aftertaste traditionally associated with sweeteners. He has worked in partnership with leading food and drink firms including Danone, Sodastream, Strauss and PepsiCo and it has now been tested by more than 1,000 people, in drinks, yogurts protein shakes and even whipped cream.

Amai was established in December 2016 but it gained funding and opened its first lab in July last year. Samish has raised $850,000 mostly through Israeli government funding and the Strauss Group incubator. Additional funding for cloud computing resources were received from Amazon and Google. The company is now looking for ‘significant investment’ and collaboration to help get industrial scale production within two years and gain full regulatory approval in three.

Looking into which markets he can crack and when, Samish says it will depend a lot on regulatory demands of different countries but, ultimately, he wants to bring Amai to all the countries that need it most.

“Ultimately our mission is to help global sugar reduction.”



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