The San Diego-based company, which uses proprietary taste receptor-based technologies to develop novel flavor ingredients, has made “significant progress” in its program to identify novel natural sweeteners than could rival stevia and monk fruit, Poyhonen told analysts on the firm's Q3 earnings call yesterday.
He added: “For the first time ever, we’ve described that we actually have natural sweeteners that are more potent than [best-known steviol glycoside] Rebaudioside A. So I think that is very exciting for us, those were discovered through our screening process.
“And we’re in the process right now of really testing what the feasibility of those looks like by screening up, conducting additional taste tests for quality, looking at physical properties like stability and solubility and those things, but we think that’s a meaningful event."
Food additive petition could take 4-5 years
Asked about the regulatory approvals required, he said: “It would be premature [to talk about it] until we get further along in the process. As you probably know, most sweeteners do not go through [the] GRAS [Generally Recognized as Safe process]; they go through another process called the food additive petition.
“So that would be a longer timeframe, typically four to five years, rather than the approximately 18 months that we see going through the FEMA [Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association expert panel] GRAS process.”
Until this week, Senomyx has not said much about its naturals program, which was set up to develop novel no- or low-calorie natural high intensity sweeteners and sweet taste modifiers and has involved screening thousands of natural compounds.
A particularly promising new natural high intensity sweetener
Investor relations and corporate communications VP Gwen Rosenberg declined to comment on whether the candidates Senomyx believes are most promising are from fruits, leaves or other plant components, or whether they could be cost-effectively manufactured on a commercial scale from the natural source (eg. leaf, fruit), as opposed to via a fermentation method (such as that employed by Cargill and Evolva to make some steviol glycosides).
However, Rosenberg told FoodNavigator-USA that the company was looking at "multiple potential candidates" in its naturals program and had "recently discovered a particularly promising new natural high intensity sweetener".
She added: "We have not yet discussed production."
First commercial products containing S617 will likely hit the market in mid-2015
Much of the rest of the earnings call focused on the company’s sweet taste modifier Sweetmyx S617, for which flavors giant Firmenich has exclusivity for food and alcoholic drink applications, and PepsiCo has exclusivity for non-alcoholic beverages.
Senomyx secured a FEMA GRAS determination in March for S617, which is claimed to enable significant reductions of both high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and beet/cane sugar (sucrose) in a variety of applications including carbonated soft drinks.
One of the two partners had been expected to commercialize products containing S617 this year, but the launch date has been delayed to mid-2015.
Asked whether this was a cause for concern, said Poyhonen: “There’s not a problem with Sweetmyx S617, this is a timing delay. Our partners continue to make meaningful progress towards the commercialization Sweetmyx S617. In fact, one of our partners has taken critical steps to support its commercialization plans, including receipt of commercial scale quantities of S617, and conducting consumer product testing.”
Tackling bitter notes in soy & whey proteins, menthol, caffeine, cocoa, Reb-A
Meanwhile, firm progress has been made on Bittermyx BB68, part of Senomyx’s bitter taste modification program, he said.
“We are conducting evaluations of Bittermyx BB68 with flavor companies for multiple potential end uses. BB68 is effective in reducing the bitterness of ingredients that impart bitter taste, or have a bitter lingering effect, such as hydrolyzed soy & whey proteins, menthol, caffeine, cocoa and forms of stevia including Rebaudioside A.”
Senomyx posted net losses of $4.4m on revenues of $5.9m in the quarter ended September 30, below analysts' expectations. Owing to the delay on S617, it also revised its forecasts for 2015, prompting a sharp slide in its share price.
However, it has cash reserves of $31m and no debt.