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Photonz poised to take on US pharmaceutical market

Photonz poised to take on US pharmaceutical market
Kiwi biotech company Photonz has reached a new milestone on the path to commercially manufacturing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) from marine microalgae.

Kiwi biotech company Photonz has reached a new milestone on the path to commercially manufacturing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) from marine microalgae.

Founded in New Zealand in 2002, the firm has developed a unique process for producing the omega-3 fatty acid, a key ingredient in novel therapeutics for the cardiovascular disease market, by means of fermentation.

Photonz has successfully transferred its strain and fermentation process, developed in Auckland, to a contract facility in Canada, which has used that process to ferment material from algal biomass in a 7.5 tonne industrial scale reactor. 

The product was comparable to that produced here, indicating the process is robust and can be reproduced by following Photonz’s procedures.

This demonstrates the feasibility of commercial production, according to chief executive Greg Moss-Smith.

“To transfer our process to other hands at a second facility, with no material alteration to performance or product, is a huge achievement, because what works in one plant doesn’t always work in another. It demonstrates the robustness of our processes and the quality of work done by the team to date."

The company is now confident that the process will work in the kinds of plant and operating conditions typically available at industrial facilities.

“By successfully operating the process at 7.5 tonne scale we have also greatly mitigated the risk of other unknown factors interfering with our ability to run industrial scale processes,” he said. “Scaling up production from hundreds to thousands of litres is far more difficult than scaling up from thousands to tens or even hundreds of thousands of litres."

Moss-Smith said Photonz was now on track to create a reliable and sustainable ingredient for the pharmaceutical industry that would address "massive opportunity" in the US$60 billion cardiovascular disease market.

Photonz currently has a pilot industrial scale plant producing samples and aims to begin manufacturing at industrial scale in 2012.

It recently secured $5.4 million from investors including the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, K1W1, Cure Kids Ventures and ICE Angels.