In conversation with BASF: AI-driven peptide discovery bodes well for sports nutrition and beyond

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

(From L-R) Neil Foster, head of partnerships at Nurtias, Mareike-Katharina Kampmann, BASF’s global marketing manager, dietary supplements, human nutrition, Dr Dietrich Rein, food fortification and global scientific marketing, human nutrition at BASF
(From L-R) Neil Foster, head of partnerships at Nurtias, Mareike-Katharina Kampmann, BASF’s global marketing manager, dietary supplements, human nutrition, Dr Dietrich Rein, food fortification and global scientific marketing, human nutrition at BASF
PeptAIde, the world's first bioactive ingredient discovered and delivered through artificial intelligence (AI) is the culmination of a partnership between BASF and Nuritas formed back in January 2017.

The ingredient, unveiled at HiE last month, hints at the depth of impact AI technology could have on the sports nutrition industry.

Coupled with the capabilities of machine learning, these innovations point towards a more data-driven approach in order to accelerate product development cycles.

In a roundtable conversation with NutraIngredients, BASF and Nuritas discuss the possibilities of applying BASF knowhow with the technology platform.

“PeptAIde is one of our new solutions in the functional food category,”​ explained Mareike-Katharina Kampmann, BASF’s global marketing manager, dietary supplements, human nutrition.  

“With PeptAIde, its outlook might also tap into the personalisation trend, which is set to play a larger role in the sports nutrition area.

“Coming from the digital space, alongside public initiatives, this is something that we look at actively as we will do for innovation, where we also look for partners with a view towards the future.”

Newtrition Health Innovation Challenge

BASF's human nutrition brand Newtrition launched its first-ever Newtrition Health Innovation Challenge​ in the Summer, looking for innovators to present breakthrough solutions for pressing health challenges.

These included the translation of nutritional status into advice and interventions that could deliver the right nutrients to the right people at the right time via personalised nutrition.

Also of interest was the establishment of clear scientific links from microbiota to health conditions for possible intervention relating to the microbiome.

BASF’s partnership with Nurtitas appears to fit into these criteria. Formed in 2014, the Ireland-based firm counts U2’s Bono and The Edge as investors into what is a burgeoning industry, looking into the make-up of food with the objective of improving health and longevity

The mixture of artificial intelligence, deep learning, nutrition and personalised nutrition piqued the interest of food giants Nestle, which in February teamed up with Nuritas​ in a discovery of bioactive peptide compounds from food sources.

The momentum is clearly with Nuritas, who only today announced a €30m investment injection from the European Investment Bank (EIB). The sum will be used to develop 'disruptive innovation' like AI and DNA analysis for use in the healthcare sector.

AI, sports and a ‘world’s first’

Neil Foster, head of strategic partnerships at Nuritas, explained how sports nutrition could benefit from AI and machine learning, with lessons potentially applying to the personalised, healthy ageing and infant nutrition sectors.

“The challenge of using AI in the area is the challenge of biology,”​ he explained. “What Nuritas aimed to build, apart from the AI and deep learning, was the real-world and in-vitro validation.

“So it was the combining of those things to bring forward meaningful solutions from a very complex data environment.

“PeptAIde is a world first, but there will be many others that follow, possibly in personalised, healthy ageing and infant nutrition. We can take the data gathered and put it to good use.”

As Foster mentions, PeptAIde’s origins and characteristics set it apart from other peptides currently available.

Said to contain a set of plant-based peptides that help modulate inflammation, the resulting immune-modulating effect is the effect of amino acids with low allergenic potential, relevant to the muscle stress response after physical exercise.

Brown rice extraction

“The PeptAIdes are extracted from brown rice and contain a series of specifically defined and targeted peptides, which were discovered and identified by Nuritas’ AI,”​ said Kampmann.

“We needed to look at the efficacy and the biological effect of these peptides,”​ added Dr Dietrich Rein, food fortification and global scientific marketing, Human Nutrition at BASF.

“We began looking in-silico advancing to in-vitro including an inflammation and a simulated macrophage model, where we saw some suppression of inflammation markers and another one with human fibroplast.

“Here, we observed stimulation of one of the immune or inflammation markers that had a higher relevance in sports and the recovery process.

“Finally, we looked at the clinical side of our product, where we looked at a larger population over a longer time and we saw a milder suppression of inflammation factors,” ​Dr Rein said.

“We also looked at the kinetics of the response to our product, where the product was given to healthy and active volunteers. We could clearly see an immune response to the product. It was very similar to response markers related to sports nutrition.

Long innovation cycles

BASF believe the use of machine learning and AI to discover new peptides is as industry first, setting the agenda of what is possible to actively address the R&D issues that firms have in common.  

“From this development, this new technology brings speed,”​ said Kampmann. “This is something the whole industry is facing. We have these long innovation cycles that in the past would’ve stretched to four, five or six years.

“AI offers a very fast approach or solution so from the beginning of the collaboration until the launch of PeptAIde now, was a period of roughly two years. This is considered extremely fast. You can see the benefit of two companies bringing their expertise together.“

“Our consumer research found that consumers have a good understanding of inflammation, perceiving it to be soreness and pain, something that the body needs help with.”

“Consumers also understand inflammation to be a healthy response and not something necessarily negative, and was something that we could support.

“Further findings focused on sports nutrition trends in which rest, regeneration and recovery were themes.

“Interestingly, active consumers perceived inflammation as linked to pain and soreness. They were interested in taking something natural to recover. This is a general trend, not only in sports nutrition where consumers are looking for something plant-based.”

Whilst BASF remained coy on future collaborations and products earmarked for the future, Nuritas’ were keen to continue reaping the learning opportunities of the partnership now and in the future.

“This is very much an ongoing collaboration,”​ said Foster. “It’s already seeing the fruition of its first ingredient. The learning as part of the collaboration has been fascinating but in the future, I think that will speed up with launches two, three, and whatever may happen beyond.

“As a start-up business. BASF’s size and scale means we’ve learnt so much from them. Perhaps a little bit of our speed, nimbleness and agility have rubbed off on them as well.”  

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