“Applying the modern technology of AI to the ancient practice of food”: Nuritas exec
14 Feb 2019 --- Unlike traditional biotechs and academics that have searched for life’s panacea in exotic and rare places, Irish biotech company Nuritas is unlocking life-changing molecules in commonly consumed, everyday staple foods. This is according to Neil Foster, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Nuritas, who spoke to NutritionInsight on the company’s expanding partnership list and how it’s pushing the innovation boat further than ever before.
The use of technologies such as AI and 3D printing to boost the growing nutrigenomic market is predicted to expand in the coming year and Nuritas seems set to ride the wave. The use of technology in the nutritional space aids personalization, which may become increasingly important to consumers who are “Eating for Me,” which is noted by Innova Market Insights as a top trend for 2019.
The “Eating for Me” trend reflects the growing demand for individualized nutritional options and an openness to technology in this realm. Since 2014, Nuritas has been “using the most modern of technologies, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and applying it to one of the fundamentals of human existence, food.”
NutritionInsight: How much insight does AI bring to nutrition?
Foster: We have enabled AI with our world’s most complex data set: the data set of biology. Of course, AI already helps with e-commerce or voice recognition, for example, but in the grand scheme of things, these are simple data problems. Biology is far more complex. There is far more data that needs to be taken into account and there exist considerable gaps in our knowledge. What we have learned about genomics in the past decade is incredible, but what we don’t know still outweighs what we have learned. Biology is so complex and that's what our platform is doing – helping to bridge these gaps and bringing meaningful solutions to the consumer.
Not only is human biology complex; food is marvelously complex too. Take something as “common” as an apple. An apple contains trillions of molecules and billions of potential peptides, one or two of which might have the ability to transform human health. Without AI, and the Nuritas platform for peptide discovery – computing power on its own is worthless – the chance of finding these peptides was effectively nil.
While there are a number of companies in the food space using AI; Nuritas is the first and currently the only company using AI to discover patented ingredients within food. We are also the first AI company to commercially launch a healthcare ingredient – be that pharmaceutical or food ingredient – discovered by AI. We do, of course, expect that there will be more in the years to come and that is a great thing for humanity and the planet. Our belief here is that there will come a time when, not just in biology and nutrition, but in other areas, that we will not understand or remember how things were done before AI.
NutritionInsight: What can we expect to see from Nuritas in the coming year?
Foster: In 2016 we received a Horizon 2020 grant that made available €3 million to progress one of our early discoveries – a food derived peptide network for the prevention of prediabetes progressing into diabetes. The grant we received helped put that product through two human trials, with the endpoint being a submission for an article 13.5 EFSA health claim. We are in that clinical phase at the moment and expect to disseminate results later on this year. That project is ongoing and looking very interesting.
2018 was a landmark year for us, thanks to our BASF launch, PeptAIde. This is the world's first commercially launched healthcare ingredient from pharmaceutical to functional food ingredient. It's the first of any of those types of ingredients that have been discovered by AI. Our platform continues to learn from every project we do and we anticipate to go into every area of biology, even beyond human nutrition and into plant and animal health.
NutritionInsight: Does Nuritas’ technology have a future in fighting malnutrition, for example? Can it be scaled up in a way that is economically feasible?
Foster: We were fortunate enough to be covered in the Institute for the Future (IFTF) report that was commissioned by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and it's saying precisely this. What our technology enables is cutting out so much of the challenge of discovery. We are engaging with many organizations who have aspirations to be highly profitable, address high-value market segments but also to operate at the other end – tackling malnutrition, overnutrition and undernutrition.
That report echoes our belief and some of the companies we are talking to that we can use the discovery of bioactive peptides from cheap, available food products to provide high-value solutions but also address fundamental needs in parts of the world where those problems need to be addressed.
NutritionInsight: How does the health claims environment influence your work?
Foster: We are definitely interested in the health claim business as are many of our collaborators. The level of characterization and understanding around our peptides fulfills EFSA’s prerequisite for any health claim. However, developing scientific evidence and putting in the application takes time. It is very much in our plans for certain ingredients and certain markets, such as with our work in diabetes.
NutritionInsight: How does the role of AI feature in marketing or labeling products that have been unlocked using Nuritas technology?
Foster: Regarding AI and how that interacts, ultimately the ingredients that we create are from food. The peptides that we are unlocking have been perfected by nature and AI is just how we discover those. It's an interesting point that consumers are more interested in AI at the moment, but it needn't be a selling point for the ingredient. The fact that AI discovers them may even become irrelevant once they become a “real” ingredient.
The ingredients we have are not novelties, they are highly efficacious and scientifically substantiated to the highest standards. This is what is important and the consumer cares most about, not the novelty of how they were created.
NutritionInsight: You have a number of high-profile public partnerships, such as with BASF and Nestlé. May we see more in the future?
Foster: The world is changing and it’s no longer sufficient just to be “big,” you need to be fast and to be able to react to new opportunities and challenges first. Once a company has identified an area of unmet consumer need or a health area in which they wish to compete, our platform can find them food-derived peptide-based solutions in a fraction of the time and with a level of science and IP protection that the natural products industry has not previously seen. This is a pretty compelling proposition in these disruptive times. Which is best demonstrated in the collaborations that we have initiated, the funding we’ve received and the investors that we have on board. You will be seeing a lot more partnerships and product launch announcements from Nuritas in 2019.
By Laxmi Haigh
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