Although the traditional Indian diet is vegetarian and high in vegetables and pulses, such as lentils and chickpeas, the prevalence of carbohydrate-heavy white rice means a growing number of people suffer from diet-related issues.
More than 60% of people with diabetes globally live in Asia, with almost one-half in China and India combined, according to estimations by the International Diabetes Federation. In India, 65.1 million adults with diabetes and in some South Indian cities, nearly 20% of the population has diabetes.
Biosustain Labs is an Indian start-up aiming to offer a solution to this problem with its pro- and prebiotic blend for digestive wellness. Its first product, Digest+, contains a combination of bacillus probiotics, polyphenol-packed pomegranate extract and guar gum fibre to help restore and balance a healthy gut flora.
Biosustain Labs was founded by Ajay Kalanjana Monnappa, a scientific researcher specialised in the fields of microbiology and synthetic biology, who completed a Ph.D. in South Korea looking into developing novel probiotics to manage and reduce the risk of non-communicable disease.
Although the choice of ingredients is not based on Monnappa’s doctoral research, his extensive knowledge in the field and time spent reading the scientific literature was crucial to deciding upon the final formulation, he told this publication.
Digest+ contains one billion Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 while the pomegranate extract, made from fruit grown in the Mediterranean regions of Spain, contains up to 2.3% polyphenols, including Punicalagin in both its alpha and beta forms.
Guar fibre, grown in the arid region of western India, helps promote a healthy gut flora by providing food for the beneficial bifidobacteria and lactobacillus. When the guar fibre - the world’s most researched galactomannan-based soluble fibre, according to the start-up – is fermented by the gut microbiome, this produces short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, which provide energy for the digestive tract.
Despite founding Biosustain Labs at a time when the world was at a standstill during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, things have moved fast for the start-up.
“I came to Madrid in 2019 and then 2020 there was the COVID lockdown so I was a bit free and started thinking of how probiotics and prebiotics could be combined to treat non-communicable diseases,” said Monnappa. “I joined the EIT Food fellowship and started to improve the concept and finally started working on the prototype of a combination of probiotic and prebiotic for digestive health and cholesterol.”
Monnappa registered Biosustain Labs as a company in India in September 2020 and immediately began developing the prototype. It attracted the attention of multinational PepsiCo, which selected the start-up to take part in its Greenhouse accelerator programme.
Thanks to a US$20,000 grant received as part of the PepsiCo Greenhouse accelerator programme, Biosustain Labs was able to build a manufacturing plant, with a daily production capacity of 20,000 sachets, complete with its own packaging unit and small research lab to continue its work into product development and evaluation.
“We used the grant very efficiently to bring our product to launch,” said Monnappa. “We are working on Digest+ to see the consumer response and we are learning how to expand our business. Soon, we would like to launch another product, the cholesterol-related product to help people manage their cholesterol in around three months.”
Based in Kodagu, a coffee-producing area in the southwestern state of Karnataka in India, Biosustain Labs is already selling Digest+ on Amazon and is in talks with local distributors to list the product in pharmacies and supermarkets in southern India.
Digest+ is currently priced at between 900 to 1,060 rupees for a box containing 30 sachets. In order to make the product more affordable to lower income households or consumers with more precarious income, Monnappa plans to launch a 10-sachet box.
Free from artificial flavours, preservatives, sugar, lactose, and gluten, the product comes in a powder format, available in individual two-gram sachets, that can be mixed with food or drink. It is also stable in hot condition, meaning it can be added to hot food and does not need to be stored in the fridge, Monnappa said.
Monnappa estimates that it can anything between one to six months for Digest+ probiotics to alter microbiome composition for the better, depending on the consumer’s metabolism and pre conditions.
Ultimately, Biosustain Labs aims to produce personalised symbiotic blends of probiotics and prebiotics based on the microbiota of each individual consumer.
“The long-term goal is for personalised synbiotics but, based on the current availability of data related to gut microbiota, it’s not that easy to implement personalised probiotics to consumers,” said Monnappa. “[….] We know their preconditions, for instance if they are diabetic or have high cholesterol, but we need data on their gut microbiota so we can think about how to alter their gut microbiota using combinations of probiotics and prebiotics.
“Slowly, gut microbiota analysis is getting simpler and less expensive. [But] this will take a long time so currently we are focused on a synbiotic formulation to manage or reduce the risk of digestive health problems or cholesterol.”
Truly personalised probiotic supplements do currently exist on the market but present a significant obstacle to uptake. US start-up Thryve Inside, for instance, requires consumers to send a faecal sample for analysis so that it can formulate personalised probiotic blends for each individual.
Monnappa believes that in one or two years, Biosustain Labs will be able to offer simplified gut microbiome analysis for Indian consumers at an affordable price.