Fermentation specialist Biomedican to spin off astaxanthin unit

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - Fahroni
©Getty Images - Fahroni

Related tags Astaxanthin salmon farming Carotenoids Carotenoid

Fermentation specialist Biomedican plans to spin off a subsidiary that will be focused on astaxanthin production via a bioengineered yeast, the company said recently.

The new company, called SciFeed, plans to produce astaxanthin aimed first at the animal feed additive market.  But founder Maxim Mikheev, PhD, said human nutrition applications are on the horizon, too.

Long history as feed additive

Astaxanthin is used as an additive in feed for farmed salmon and trout as well as other animal feed applications. The carotenoid helps to give the flesh of the farmed fish its attractive red hue.

The presence of astaxanthin in salmon was one part of the early story about the health benefits of this ingredient.  The high antioxidant capacity of the carotenoid, which salmon and other fish bioaccumulate in their flesh, was thought to be part of the reason that salmon are physically able to make their incredible journeys to their spawning grounds. In some cases this requires surmounting multiple waterfalls and swimming hundreds of miles upstream, all without feeding.

The market for this additive has up to now been dominated by chemically synthesized additives, which can be produced at lower cost.  Mikheev said he believes there is an opportunity for a more natural alternative, produced via his company’s proprietary forms of genetically modified yeast.  

Natural biosynthesis

Mikheev calls his company’s method “natural biosynthesis.”  The astaxanthin will be produced by the proprietary yeast strain using molasses as a starting material.

Biomedican first made itself known to the market as a producer of rare cannabinoids via the yeast biosynthesis method.  But Mikheev said the markets for the two product streams are different enough that a different management structure was called for.

“The company did not see major synergies or crossover sales between the rare cannabinoid market and Astaxanthin market. So, we thought it was best to split them and create a new management team that will be solely focused on monetizing the Astaxanthin market opportunities,”​ he said.

Biomedican believes the astaxanthin market was worth more than $1 billion in 2019.  Indeed, other astaxanthin producers, such as Chinese company BGG and Algalif, which is based in Iceland, have expanded production to meet market demand.

BGG and other astaxanthin producers using algae, such as AstaReal and Algatech, produce an esterified form of the ingredient.  Mikheev said an important differentiation for his company’s astaxanthin will be that it will be offered in free form, which he said boosts the ingredient’s bioavailability at the expense of some shelf life.

In addition, Mikheev claims that Biomedican’s fermentation platform will deliver astaxanthin that is as much as 70% cheaper than what can be obtained from other methods, including from chemical synthesis.

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