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Wheat germ extract provides mitochondria health benefits  

Article-Wheat germ extract provides mitochondria health benefits  

© iStock/ID-art Germinated wheat, wheat germ, grain, copyright istock id-art.jpg
Startup Mitomarin has developed a highly concentrated, gluten-free fermented wheat germ extract with scientifically validated health benefits on mitochondria, and it aims to target the functional food market.

Mitomarin has developed an 11-step patented process that standardises three key manufacturing procedures - fermentation, extraction, and fractionation. This has enabled the start-up to produce a super-concentrated form of fermented wheat germ extract, both in liquid and powder forms. This can be used as a functional food alone, like in a capsule, or as an ingredient of other food or beverage products.

“We started from a medical nutritional angle,” explains Mitomarin co-founder Szabolcs Varga. Our aim was to create the first functional food globally with validated effects on cancer cell metabolism and mitochondria. Eventually, our aim is to go for the consumer health and wellness market.”

Reverse engineering innovation solutions 

The first generation of fermented wheat germ extract was developed in the late ‘90s. This was a mix of thousands of molecules, with a daily dosage of around 17 g. What the Mitomarin team did - through painstaking experimental process - was develop a super-concentrated form of just 35 to 50 bioactive molecules, and with a daily dosage of just 41 mg.

Our innovation was born in a biotech laboratory,” explains Mitomarin colleague and co-founder Gyula Bencze. “This is where you build and analyse cellular-level hypotheses and mechanisms connected to your experimental compound, and try to find efficacy. In this sense, it is a reverse engineering process.”

Bencze led a team at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the US for six years, where he focused on identifying bioactive molecules of fermented wheat germ. Their effect was validated on mitochondria, and then extracted in the most efficient and super-concentrated way.

“Our inspiration was to show that mitochondria are so much more than the powerhouse of the cell,” he explains. “They are more like the sentinels of the cells.” Mitomarin has published its findings on addressing cancer cell metabolism in a number of scientific journals.

From the lab to the market

© Gyula BenczeMitomarin copyright Gyula Bencze RS.jpg

Besides the scientific challenge, the start-up has also had to address issues surrounding commercialisation. “These are hurdles that face every start-up at the intersection of biotechnology and foodtech,” says Varga. “We are talking about lengthy regulatory procedures where you show that your novel compound is safe and efficient. And it is always hard to assemble a core team capable of building a global strategy.”

To begin, the company is focusing its attention on cancer patients and high-risk cancer groups. It will then turn its attention to health-conscious consumers who are actively seeking a solution to reduce the risk of cancer development.

We are still in the early phase of the novel food authorisation procedure in the European Union, and we are adding more clinical trials to show beneficial effects on cancer patients and the healthy population,” says Bencze. “Still, the results indicate that we can help normalise mitochondrial function on the cellular level. The normal function of the mitochondria is one of the critical elements of cellular health.”

Pioneering the micronutrient revolution

Varga sees Mitomarin as a pioneer of the coming micronutrient revolution.  “Foodtech investments are still about macronutrients - proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and their alternatives,” he explains. “We are contrarians in this sense, so it is still hard to raise funds. However, we have seen interest from even the most significant food industrial players.”

Being a finalist at Fi Europe’s 2023 Start-up Innovation Challenge in the Most Innovative Food or Beverage Ingredient category certainly helped.

This is one of the most respected competitions globally among food tech startups, and it is connected with a vast networking event of all prominent food industrial players of the world in Frankfurt,” Varga notes.

“We are actively raising funds, so this gold standard is the best way to showcase our story and find potential investors and, collaborators, future partners in R&D. We wanted to demonstrate that besides the sustainability and climate change issues, we have to aim for the health crisis of the world with novel solutions.”

New perspectives on food and health

Mitomarin aims to provide a new perspective on the role of food in health, by continuing to focus on nutritional mitochondrial interventions and novel food development. “Our hope is that we find investors in 2024, as we raise seed funds and prepare for commercialisation in the next 18 to 24 months,” says Varga.

“Our ambition is clear, and we feel we have set the bar high - give a global product to the consumer, and bring a novel scientific approach to the importance of mitochondria. We see the future as being more about health and nutrition than disease and drugs.”