Cork start-up delivers on protecting food ingredients

19 Jul 2013

Dr Sinéad B Doherty, founder and CEO of AnaBio Technologies

Technology-based company AnaBio has been going from strength to strength, developing microscopic capsules to protect food ingredients, animal feeds and therapeutics. Claire O’Connell caught up with founder and CEO Dr Sinéad B Doherty, who recently scooped awards from Ignite at University College Cork (UCC) and Junior Chamber International Cork.

You could say Doherty has had a busy few months. Last November, she officially launched her company AnaBio Technologies. Eight months later, the company has a clutch of product patents and an array of Irish and international food industry clients lining up to make use of its encapsulation technology to protect ingredients that could bring health benefits. Plus Doherty has been scooping awards along the way.

When we speak she is in Germany meeting customers and showcasing the company’s technology, which she originally worked on as part of her PhD in Teagasc and UCC. She spun out the company in 2011 and generated a working base at Teagasc, Moorepark in Fermoy. By late 2012, Doherty had operations in place, she officially launched the company, and this year she has been scaling up production.

AnaBio Technologies’ encapsulation approach looks to protect sensitive ingredients in food, animal feeds and therapeutics, explains Doherty. “At the moment there’s huge pressure on food companies to stabilise sensitive and functional compounds, like flavours and probiotics, in their products,” she says. “So we make small capsules to give those sensitive ingredients a stable little micro-environment, which means they can last longer on the shelf and they are protected as they pass through parts of the digestive system.”

Adding value with capsules

In practice, the company’s platform technology takes relatively cheap biological materials from milk and milk byproducts, seaweed, citrus fruit, rice or peas and uses them to manufacture the capsule structures. 

Lab and preclinical tests show that the capsules keep their cargo shielded, meaning that functional ingredients can get to where they need to go in the intestine, according to Doherty, citing probiotics as an example. “Probiotics are not in themselves extremely expensive, but they won’t work if they don’t get to the right place in the body,” she says. “If they can survive then they become a value-added product – so we are basically using these capsules to add value to a customer’s product and deliver a health benefit.” 

The company now has labs in Dublin and Moorepark, and Doherty acknowledges the support of Enterprise Ireland in connecting her with potential customers. And AnaBio has caught the attention of several clients in Ireland and overseas, getting its patented technologies around ingredients such as bioactives and probiotics and working in the areas of infant formula, food supplements, functional foods and animal feeds, explains Doherty. “We develop the technology to solve a problem for a customer using encapsulation technology,” she says. “Then once the process is fully optimised for commercial production the technology can possibly be transferred to the customer.”

New directions

The company is charging ahead in new directions, too, looking at vaccine delivery and investing in human trials of the capsules in sports nutrition and food supplements. “It’s all moving very quickly,” says Doherty, whose success has not gone unnoticed. Last month, AnaBio was awarded the Bank of Ireland/IGNITE Business of the Year 2013, and earlier this month Doherty was named as an Outstanding Young Person of the Year by the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Cork. 

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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