German firm claims new omega-3 source found

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acid Eicosapentaenoic acid Docosahexaenoic acid

German biotech firm, InterMed Discovery (IMD), has licensed a “microbial source” form of omega-3 it says offers an alternative to existing fish, algae and plant sources.

IMD, which normally licenses ingredients from its 20,000-strong database of bioactives to other firms such as its partner Cognis to carry out development work, has turned developer on this occasion after signing an undisclosed deal with the University of Saarland.

However it may be some time until commercial realisation was achieved as little lab work has been done into how the extract may be incorporated into various food, food supplement and pharmaceutical matrices.

“We hope to carry out this kind of work with potential partners,’’​ IMD head of business development, Erik Metz, told “But what we do know is that this is a potent source of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). We will continue to work with the University of Saarland to develop this ingredient.”

He said the cost of the extract was comparable to other omega-3 sources.

Microbial sources

The company was unwilling to reveal details about the microbial source, which it noted did not face the sustainably issues that are raised in relation to fish sources, although that industry points out that omega-3 oils from fish are actually a by-product of the fish feed industry – which they argue are sustainably sourced.

While not previously aware of microbial options, its potential was recognised by Professor Jack Winkler, an omega-3 expert and director of the Nutrition Policy Unit at London Metropolitan University.

“This extends the range of technical options for sustainable (non-fish based) omega-3s beyond those that have become public so far – fermented algae, normal algae and GM plants (soy and rapeseed),”​ he said, adding in regard to price.

“They mention intending to enter the food market with these new omega-3s, extending their functional ingredients business. None of the other sustainable sources that I know of are intending to do that, or are too costly to compete there. Which suggests this is a low cost mode of production.”


In March, 2008, IMD entered into an arrangement that gave fellow German supplier, Cognis, access to its natural compounds database that is derived from a host of plants as well as edible materials such fruits, vegetables and mushrooms.

Cognis and IMD have been working on about 10 projects to bring some of those bioactives to market, with a weight management schizandra (Chinese mock-braberry)-based option the most advanced.

IMD, created in a management buy-out from BayerHealthCare in 2006, has divided its bioactives database into three core areas: brain, cardiovascular and weight management.

It recently joined with a Malaysian herbal specialist, Biotropics Malaysia Berhad, to “investigate and commercialise”​ botanicals in the sub-tropical jungle there.

Omega-3 is best known for its cognitive and heart health benefits.

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