Global chemical titans DowDuPont Inc. and BASF SE are set to invest eye-watering sums to push forward production of an indigestible sugar found naturally in breast milk – the so-called human milk oligosaccharide, or HMO, stuff.co.nz reported.
HMO, the third most common ingredient found in breast milk after lactose and fat, is not typically digested, which allows it to reach the colon where it feeds beneficial bacteria acting as prebiotics. According to Rachael Buck, who leads HMO research at Similac formula-maker Abbott Laboratories, HMO accounts for the commonly known fact that breast-fed babies fare better than formula-fed, as it strengthens the developing immune system, helping battle infections and inflammations as well as adding to brain development, multiple research findings suggest.
New studies meanwhile show that HMO may be beneficial for grown-ups as well, in line with consumers’ growing interest in probiotics – the so-called “good” bacteria that live in the colon and aid general metabolism.
The scientifically proven benefits of HMO have led DuPont to set ambitious goals of expanding its artificial HMO production capacity this year, with the company planning to invest $40 million in the adult-targeted project while expecting the annual market to reach $1 billion.
HMOs, including of its varieties, 2'FL, are produced through a fermentation process using giant vats filled with microbes, and could lead to treatments for adult ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome, allergies and even the ageing brain, Buck said.
Abbott was the first to bring HMOs to the US baby nutrition market in 2016, further expanding it to 15 countries.
When it comes to the adult market, German chemical giant BASF began ramping up production of 2'FL this year, while at the same time studying how the different health effects of HMOs might be developed into a range of products beyond baby formula.
Per Stefan Ruedenauer, BASF director of human nutrition research and development, their aim is to expand on their “scientific know-how on specific health functions of HMOs to adults as well”.
DuPont is currently marketing its 2'FL HMO, branded as CARE4U, to consumer manufacturers who can use it in adult supplements for digestive and immune health, said Ratna Mukherjea, global research and development leader at DuPont.
Smaller rivals in the digestive health sphere include Jennewein Biotechnologie GmbH, FrieslandCampina of Germany, and Danish biotechnology company Glycom S/A that is targeting the adult market with HMO supplements, touted for fighting symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome among others.