Distinct from the plant-based collagen ‘builder’ or ‘booster’ formulations, PrimaColl is an exact match to the bioactive amino acid core of the less abundant Type 21 collagen, said Geltor, which has teamed up with Lonza Specialty Ingredients to manufacture the product.
A high-purity concentrated product, PrimaColl “delivers greater potency in less volume and does not include secondary components common to animal-derived collagens which can impact solubility and present formulation challenges,” claimed Geltor, a San Leandro-based startup deploying synthetic biology to engineer microbes to produce collagen (which is currently extracted from animal skin, bones, and connective tissue) via a fermentation process.
“Like most collagens, natural production of Type 21 decreases into adulthood,” said Geltor co-founder and CTO Nick Ouzounov. “The functional collagen core of Type 21 was selected in the biodesign of PrimaColl due to its important role in interacting with other collagen types, and signaling activity for additional collagen production.”
Co-founder and CEO Alex Lorestani told FoodNavigator-USA: “PrimaColl is a premium ingredient relative to other collagens on the market. Customers love that it’s a Type 21 collagen and therefore a concentrated bioactive, meaning the beneficial effects can be accessed by using less of it in a formulation than you would with an animal-derived collagen.
"Being able to achieve this level of potency is a game-changing value for our customers, and opens up all kinds of new formulation possibilities.”
‘The customers we’re engaging have been eager to offer a real vegan collagen for a long time’
So what kind of customers are interested in vegan, or ‘animal-free’ collagen, and why?
“The customers we’re engaging have been eager to offer a real vegan collagen for a long time,” claimed Lorestani, who launched his first animal-free collagen products in the topical skincare category and is now targeting food and dietary supplements.
“Until now, they’ve had to rely on plant-based collagen builders,’ which can be vitamins, minerals, and amino acids - but which aren’t true collagens. Ours is the first real vegan collagen, and a Type 21 collagen, both of which can only be unlocked by our technology.
“Of the 28 different types of collagen, we selected Type 21 for its ‘multiplier effect’ in signaling to cells for production of additional collagen. Type 21 is not only exceptional in this way, but extremely rare in nature, making up only a tiny percentage – less than 1% - of the total collagen found in the body.
“So this is an ingredient that would be impossible to source in any other way other than through biodesign. And, like all collagens, it decreases as we age.”
Clinical trial in progress
So where’s the human clinical data to support the benefits of ingestible collagen (eg. if you eat collagen, does it follow that it actually go to the parts of the body we want it to go to, such as skin, hair, nails?)
“There is some strong support in the published scientific literature on the efficacy of collagen in both skincare and oral supplementation,” said Lorestani. “Some of the debate is because the mechanism for how exactly the collagen is able to deliver the results reported by test subjects is not yet fully understood.
“A number of dermatologists, dieticians, and nutritionists also recommend collagen supplementation for skin, hair, and nail health. We have a third-party clinical trial of PrimaColl currently in progress.”
Traditionally, collagen is sourced from animal skin, bones, and connective tissue, while collagen peptides are produced through the enzymatic hydrolysis of collagen.
Geltor - by contrast - starts with a suite of microbes that naturally produce proteins but then inserts DNA sequences - basically a set of instructions - that effectively 'program' those microbes (in this case, bacteria) to produce collagen proteins.
The company – which raised $91.3m in a Series B round last year - has filed multiple patents covering its use of machine learning and modified bacteria to produce collagen proteins and is continuing to grow its IP portfolio, which has been very important for partners. Picture credit: Geltor
What do you call it?
Asked about labeling in the US market, Lorestani said: “PrimaColl should be listed as “Collagen (Vegan)” on end product labels. Customers have a range of options for front of pack, including ‘Next-Generation Collagen,’ ‘Concentrated Collagen Peptides,’ to ‘Real Vegan Collagen’ or ‘Animal-Free Collagen.’
The market opportunity for animal-free collagen
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA in February, VP business development Scott Fabro said: “Collagen is one of the fastest growing ingredients in the functional food and beverage space.
While the functional benefits will be key to the ingredient’s appeal, its ‘animal-free’ credentials are also attractive to food and nutrition brands, many of whom are looking to make vegan claims for environmental, ethical, or religious reasons (pork-derived collagen is not halal or kosher, while bovine collagen is only halal if the animals were slaughtered in a certain way), said Fabro.
“We are already engaged with several dozen customers, and the interest level is extremely high," added Fabro, who said Geltor planned to submit its GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) determination to the FDA.
"Vegan collagen is for everyone. There’s no dietary restriction, no religious restrictions, and it’s an opportunity for customers to differentiate themselves in the market; we’ve had interest from companies interested in adding it to everything from beverages to baked goods to gummies.”
The GMO factor
Asked whether the ‘GMO factor’ puts any potential customers off (Geltor uses synthetic biology to engineer bacteria to produce target proteins, although its final products are not GMOs), he noted that there are compelling ethical and environmental arguments for making animal proteins without raising or slaughtering animals.
Attitudes towards the technology had also changed “quite dramatically” in recent years, claimed Fabro, who dealt with some messaging issues around engineered microbes when he worked at Cargill and Evolva on producing stevia sweeteners via microbial fermentation.
“Customers just continue to be more and more aware of the benefits of fermentation to produce hard to get ingredients."