Burcon: New Protein Rivals Animal Proteins
A new plant protein that targets nutraceuticals and functional foods is the focus of Burcon NutraScience Corporation, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In October 1999 Burcon, a company on the Canadian Venture Exchange, acquired protein research company B.M.W. Canola of Winnipeg; through this research subsidiary, Burcon has developed a patented technology for extracting a high quality protein powder from canola for application in the nutritional supplement market.
According to company president Johann Tergesen, the resulting product, branded Puratein™, has an amino acid profile superior to that of other plant-based proteins and it tests higher than casein and just below whey.
The other half of the story is the protein’s functionality, which approaches that of egg white in terms of its whipping, foaming and binding properties. This is due to the gentle extraction process and has obvious application in items such as breads and cake mixes, said Mr. Tergesen, but it can also be used in nutritional products like energy bars. “Energy bars usually have a firm, dense structure. We can bring a protein to the mix that enables a ‘nougaty’ aerated consistency.” He continued, “We can also offer a smoothie that mimics the mouthfeel of ice cream.” The protein is lowfat and has a mild grainy flavor with a neutral taste profile, making it applicable to a host of food applications as well.
As an aside, there is a whole area of excitement around a separate nutritional attribute, said Mr. Tergesen. Canola, which is known as rapeseed outside North America, is part of the brassica family of plants (which includes broccoli and brussel sprouts). These plants are highly regarded for their naturally-occurring cancer-fighting chemicals and Mr. Tergesen reports a number of researchers are interested in the product for that reason. “Because our extraction process is so pure, these valuable plant-based chemicals are either in the product or in the extraction process waste stream, offering us a second value source.”
The extraction process is patented in the U.S., Europe, Japan and Australia, with patents pending in several other countries including China, Hong Kong, Canada and India. The next step is obtaining regulatory approval, said Mr. Tergesen. “We are concentrating primarily on the U.S. and initially in the dietary supplement category, which is obviously the fastest route to market. However,” he said, “we do intend to apply for full GRAS status for the ingredient.” He added that Burcon would also look hard at Europe, which is the world’s largest producer of canola and at Japan, which is the largest importer. Burcon hopes to have a product in some markets within the year.
The challenge, said Mr. Tergesen, lies in the fact that because the protein is so revolutionary, it is considered a novel food and therefore must clear more regulatory hurdles before it is approved for human consumption. To help assuage safety concerns, Burcon has entered into a host of clinical trials with the product, including animal feeding trials and single dose and multi-dose trials.
Currently Burcon is developing a 10,000 liter pilot plant and laboratory in Winnipeg and is close to commissioning its first commercial manufacturing facility. The big decision right now, said Mr. Tergesen, is the location for the $12-30 million facility, which will either be in Canada or Europe. A decision is expected by the end of the third quarter.
Burcon NutraScience Corporation
1946 West Broadway
Vancouver, British Columbia
Canada V6J 1Z2
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