Irish company AnaBio is delivering in precision nutrition

31 Mar 2017

Dr Sinéad Bleiel, founder and CEO of AnaBio. Image: Brendan Lyon/ImageBureau

AnaBio is rapidly establishing itself in the field of science-driven delivery of precision ingredients. Founder Sinéad Bleiel spoke to Claire O’Connell.

AnaBio Technologies is, quite literally, a company that delivers. The 20-strong enterprise specialises in developing ingredients that can get to where they need to be in the body in an effective manner, be it a probiotic strain of bacteria or an amino acid to aid muscle recovery after a workout. 

Dr Sinéad Bleiel, founder and CEO, initially built AnaBio from her PhD work at Teagasc, Moorepark and University College Cork. In just a few years, the precision nutrition enterprise has gone from strength to strength.

Encapsulate this

It all started with Bleiel’s work in Teagasc on using whey protein derived from milk to encapsulate probiotic bacteria. Why? To safeguard the bacteria against the rigours of waiting on the shelf, and protect them as they passed through the hurdles of the mouth, stomach and small intestine.

“That technology was used to deliver probiotics to specific places in the body,” explains Bleiel. “We got in vivo data showing we could deliver to the right place.”

The research led to her setting up AnaBio to develop precision ingredients for the food industry, and things took off. “We got some customers on board and we haven’t looked back,” she said.

The enterprise now has 20 employees across three locations, a dozen patents, ingredients in 11 products on the market and more than 60 clients, including multinationals.

Delivering in a niche 

One key to the success, according to Bleiel, has been to find its niche in precision nutrition, and that started with encapsulation.

“Encapsulation is all about the precision of delivering ingredients, it’s like a ‘DHL’ system in the body,” she said. “So [an ingredient such as] iron or a probiotic needs to get to a certain place in the gut and we can tailor that delivery, and that is where we have found our niche in the industry.”

The timing has been good, too, she added, with so many new, active ingredients coming onto the market. “[These ingredients] need to be stable during processing, they need to be stable for their shelf life and also when passing through the mouth and acid to get to the gut,” she explained.

“Ingredients need to overcome a huge number of hurdles and we help these ingredients get to the finish line. We help them get to the target place in the body as fast as possible so they have the best effect or, if they need to be delayed, we can control their release. It’s about making the ingredient the best possible.”

AnaBio applies its expertise to ingredients for infant nutrition, dietary supplements and basic human nutrition, and they are now building up their animal nutrition offerings too. “We are a science-driven company and we have expertise in this niche area,” said Bleiel. “And companies with thousands of scientists are still coming to us to solve the problem.”

‘In Ireland, we have this fantastic ability to network’

Scientific studies

One of AnaBio’s recent successes has been a water-stable microencapsulaton of the sports supplement creatine, allowing it to be delivered in a liquid drink rather than needing to be formulated as a powder.

The research, which was published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, showed that encapsulated creatine monohydrate is stable in water and, in the final product, it is stable against stomach acid and gets into the bloodstream. Future Nutrition Ltd in Wexford is now commercialising the product, noted Bleiel, who led the study and is delighted to see a fellow Irish company now using the ingredient.

The company is also working with the amino acid leucine, but this time they want to slow down the delivery, she added: “We are showing we can control the release of that ingredient. You don’t want a Usain Bolt here – you stagger the release of the ingredient over time.”

Spirit of collaboration

AnaBio collaborates with various academic partners on the studies, including University College Dublin, Dublin City University and Cork Institute of Technology, and Bleiel values the collegiate atmosphere in Ireland.    

“[As a company], we go from the beaker to the bag. We started on the science bench, and I am a scientist by nature. I love being able to collaborate with other scientists,” she said.

“In Ireland, we have this fantastic ability to network. I think it’s in the spirit here that people will connect; you say you have a problem or an idea, and people want to work on it with you. And it is so inspiring to be able to go around the world and present the findings of AnaBio and colleagues in Irish science – we have world-class facilities and researchers here.”

Entrepreneurial passion

With the company in rapid growth mode and expanding facilities in Cork, Bleiel admitted that work-life balance can be hard to achieve at the moment. However, as AnaBio further builds its scientific and production teams, it is tapping into the entrepreneurial mindset.  “We are a small company, everyone needs passion to move forward,” she said.

“That means you are not a number, you are part of the action.”

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Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication