To produce organic mineral supplements that can be better absorbed by the human organism is the prospect for 2006 of a small pharmaceutical company located in the Paulista town of Jaboticabal, named Biofarm Química e Farmacêutica. On developing these supplements, it will become the first national manufacturer of these products used in the formula make up of medicines and in the preparation of industrialized foodstuffs such as milk, yogurt, flour and biscuits. Currently in Brazil only inorganic supplements, such as iron sulfate, zinc chloride and copper sulfate, are manufactured. The new products that the Biofarm company is going to make available for the industry are produced by way of a substance called a chelate, the name given to an organic complex formed by the chemical reaction between molecules, such as the amino acids of proteins coming from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and metals such as iron, chromium, magnesium, copper, zinc and calcium. “I believe that we’ll manage to commercialize our product for a price that will be around 30% cheaper than imported chelates”, stated the chemist Ricardo da Silva Sercheli, responsible for the research that has resulted in the development of the new product at Biofarm. “During the first year we want to conquer 25% of the market and in the second 30%.” The price of a kilogram of imported chelate varies between R$ 40 and R$ 100 depending upon the mineral being used.
The manufacture of inorganic supplements has been going on in Brazil for many years, by simply mixing the mineral with some acids. The production of chelates, for its part, is much more complex. It involves a system that obtains the amino acids of proteins and brings about a reaction with the metallic minerals in reacting vessels. “Up until we had concluded our research, national technology for the industrial production of mineral chelates, with the specifications demanded for their use in the pharmaceutical and food industries, had not existed”, advised chemist Sercheli. For him, the chelate show two major advantages over similar inorganic supplements. The first is that the bio-availability of a mineral in the form of a chelate is much greater, up to four times more. This signifies that our organism better absorbs this type of supplement than when the metals are in the inorganic salt form. The second is the reduction of the side effects caused in some people by the ingestion of traditional supplements, which can be diarrhea, constipation, gastric and intestinal problems.
For example, among the benefits of the minerals there is: calcium that combats osteoporosis; iron that prevents anemia; zinc that acts as an anti-oxidant agent and chromium has a module activity in insulin production in the pancreas. The problem is that not always are the necessary doses of these minerals obtained in the foodstuffs eaten on a daily basis. The solution lies in mineral supplements, which can be administered as if they were a medicine. This is the case, for example, with newly born children who have the symptoms of anemia and need to take daily doses of iron.
Since 2002 in Brazil there has existed the obligation of the addition of bio-available iron to wheat and corn flours. In this manner, the products derived such as macaroni, bread, cakes and desserts possess an iron supplement. “Mineral supplements based on chelates are evidently more advantageous, but importing has impeded that they should be consumed by the national pharmaceutical industry”, advised researcher Sercheli. Having taken his masters and doctorate degrees at the Chemical Institute of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), he did his post-doctorate studies at the University of California, in Berkeley, the United States, where he dedicated his research to the production of organic-metallic compounds, exactly the classification into which the chelates fit. According to the researcher, true statistics concerning the volume of supplements consumed in the country do not exist, but it is estimated that only a small section, in the order of 15 tons per month – less than 20% of the total -, is organic and imported.
For the development of amino acid chelates coming from yeast, the Biofarm company was able to count upon financial support from FAPESP, by way of the Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE) program. At the end of last year the company was one of the twenty selected to receive resources through the Support for Company Research Program (Pappe), implanted in various States by the Financier of Studies and Projects (Finep) from the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT). In Sao Paulo, the federal program is being implemented in a cooperative form along with the PIPE program, looking towards financing that starts in the third phase, when the prototype is ready to enter onto the production line. In the other States, the investment is used within the phase of the formulation of the product. In the PIPE program, the first phase is directed towards the development of an idea and the second phase to proving that idea in the laboratory. “With the Pappe resources, of R$430,000, we’re going to acquire the equipment, such as vitrified industrial reactors constructed of stainless steel, in order to mount a new production line”, affirmed Naur Bellusci Filho, a partner and director at Biofarm. “We’re increasing our factory and building an exclusive unit for the production of mineral chelates from the amino acids of yeast. This new sector will be ready at the start of 2006 and will be capable of producing 11.5 tons per month.”
Yeast from sugarcane
One of the factors of the low price of the chelates that will be produced by Biofarm is the facility for obtaining the raw material for the supplement’s manufacture: the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is widely used in other industrial processes, such as a type of fermentation, as occurs in the manufacture of beer. The Biofarm company is going to make use of the low price that this yeast has when it becomes a left-over in the production of ethyl alcohol and sugar. In various countries, such as the United States and China, the major manufacturers of chelates, the production of yeast is normally done in industrial units built exclusively for that purpose, which makes the price of the final product more expensive. “Our factory is located within a sugar/alcohol production region where there exists an abundance of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This is an important competitive advantage for us”, advised chemist Sercheli. According to the researcher, the first stage in the production of chelates from these amino acids consists in carrying out the isolation of the protein, since the yeast contains around 40% of the necessary protein material. After the protein is separated, it goes through a hydrolysis process (breaking down using water), which has as its objective the breaking of the amino acid chain present in the molecule. Hydrolysis is done by way of chemical and enzyme reactions, whose details were not revealed by the researcher as they involve an industrial secret. With the “soup” of amino acids resulting from hydrolysis, called hydrolyzed protein, different mineral chelates are prepared.
“We’ve already managed to manufacture chelates of calcium, iron, manganese and selenium. This last mentioned was prepared in the form of a complex, because it is not a metal”, stated chemist Sercheli. The supplement’s molecules have, on average, 80% of amino acids and 20% of mineral. All of the chelates developed at the Biofarm company were analyzed and classified in the laboratories of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), at the University of Sao Paulo (USP), in Ribeirão Preto, at the Paulista State University (Unesp), of Jaboticabal, and at the Bioagri Laboratories, a private reference center for chemical and toxicology analysis with its headquarters in the town of Piracicaba. The tests proved that the chelates of amino acids, whose final form is a powder, are within the specifications demanded by the legislation and desired by the market.
A water shed
The start of the production of the amino acid chelates derived from yeast is a water shed in the history of the Biofarm company. Founded some ten years ago, it started off by dedicating itself exclusively to the production and commercialization of mineral supplements and medicines in the area of animal health and the provision of service for other companies in the sector. The company now manufactures pharmaceutical products in various formats: liquid, powder, creams and capsules for injection. There are in total around 50 products such as vermifuges, larva killers, anti-helminthics, growth promoters and mineral supplements, made for large size animals such as cattle, goats, pigs, horses, and for pets such as cats and dogs. The products are sold to veterinary medicine distributors and directly to breeders. Starting in the first quarter of 2006, the company will also begin an initiative to sell veterinary products to other Latin American countries.
With a tight entrepreneurial structure and a background of qualified collaborators, and with eighteen employees, the company is projecting a growth rate of 40% during this year. In 2004 its income increased by 33%, but, if one were to consider only the sales of the manufactured products, the evolution of its income rose by 70%. “We’re highly optimistic about the start of the operation of the new manufacturing unit of chelates from yeast. When it’s running full blast, we believe it’ll be our leading product. This is because chelates have an aggregated value that is much higher than the products that we currently manufacture and we don’t have any national competitors”, stated Bellusci Filho, a partner and director of the company. In the opinion of the executive, business dealings with the pharmaceutical industry and national food companies are already underway looking to provide mineral chelates of amino acids derived from protein starting in the first quarter of 2006.
Production of amino acid chelates starting from the protein hydrolysis of Saccharomyces cerevisiae for use with mineral food supplements of high bio-availability (nº 00/12797-0); Modality Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE) Program; Coordinator Ricardo da Silva Sercheli – Biofarm; Investment R$ 272,395.68 (FAPESP) and R$ 430,000.00 (Finep)