Breaking News on Food & Beverage Development - North AmericaEU edition | Asian edition

News > R&D

Kraft uses math to develop functional foods

By Lorraine Heller , 14-Jan-2009

Kraft Foods has invested in a novel ingredient screening technology that uses mathematics to identify new compounds with specific health benefits.

The research and licensing collaboration with Medisyn Technologies, announced this morning, is expected to cut time and costs for the discovery and development of functional food ingredients.

Under the new agreement, Medisyn will use its Forward Engineering technology to screen hundreds of thousands of compounds until it finds ones that match a model for the desired biological activity – or active health benefits.

Essentially, the technology is the opposite of the conventional way of discovering active ingredients, explained David Land, president of Medisyn.

Rather than deriving properties from known compounds – which is the standard but time-consuming process used in the functional food and nutraceutical industries today – Medisyn claims it is able to create a mathematical model for the desired active properties and apply this to existing databases of compounds to find suitable matches.

Kraft collaboration

The new collaboration with Kraft will see Medisyn identify bioactive ingredients suitable for use in foods, and Kraft will then work on scientific research and product development.

Land said that it takes around 18 months from the start of a project to the identification of useful compounds. This, he said, is faster than the conventional process of active ingredient discovery, and provides some indication for industry to benchmark the level of potential cost savings.

Discovering the unknown

“We’re figuring out ways to describe bioactive compounds so we can find new bioactive compounds,” Land told NutraIngredients-USA.com.

“By using this mathematical approach we can easily move from one chemical compound family to another – we can review all known natural compounds and see if any other compounds have similar benefits. We’re leveraging the known to discover the unknown”.

The technology, which the firm also applies for pharmaceutical discovery, was developed by Jorge Gálvez, senior professor of physical chemistry at the University of Valencia in Spain.

Medisyn first licensed the technology in 2002, before acquiring it in 2004. The company has 30 ongoing projects – 20 with pharmaceutical clients and 10 with nutraceutical firms.

Its natural product projects include the discovery of both food and supplement ingredients, and the firm has so far worked in the areas of mental health, sexual health, bone density and muscle relaxation.

Although most of its clients have required confidentiality, Medisyn was able to reveal that it has worked with Cargill, a major global food ingredient supplier.

How does it work?

The key to the process is molecular topology (MT), a branch of mathematics that can create a ‘digital fingerprint’ for a group of active compounds with a desired health benefit.

For example, if the goal is to identify new compounds that improve bone density, Medisyn will start by examining all existing compounds already known to carry this benefit.

It will use MT to identify the biological properties in these active compounds that are responsible for the benefit. These biological properties are analyzed through mathematical descriptives, and a training set – or mathematical modeling system – will be created.

This modeling system is fundamentally a method for describing the way atoms are connected within a molecule, and correlating that with a compound’s biological activity. In this way, Medisyn can understand what these compounds – which all demonstrate the same health benefit – have in common with each other.

Once the digital fingerprint of a group of active compounds is identified, it is stored in an in silico – or computer – model, and is compared to other digital fingerprints belonging to a chemical database of compounds.

If new compounds are found to have the same digital fingerprint, they are expected to have the same pharmacological characteristics, and the newly identified compounds are submitted for in vitro testing.

So far, none of the food or supplement products using the technology have been launched to market, as they are still in the development stage. Land said these were “in the pipeline” but could not give a timeline as the product development is conducted by Madisyn’s clients.