Kiwi firm uncovers milk defence mechanism

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The full power of cow's milk has only recently been discovered. Photo / Thinkstock
The full power of cow's milk has only recently been discovered. Photo / Thinkstock

This post originally appeared on Sciblogs.co.nz.

Considering that a cow's udder is a potential site of invasion for pathogens, it makes sense that nature's provided some defence mechanisms in the milk itself to fight the microorganisms.

Somewhat surprisingly, the full power of this suite of natural Immune Defence Protein, as they've been trademarked, has only recently been discovered.

The novel milk fraction with proven (and being further proved) anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties are the basis of Hamilton-based company Quantec's bid to carve a niche in the global human and animal health products market.

Quantec has recently obtained a $250,000 venture capital injection from Waikato-based Central Capital Investments, matched by the government's NZ Venture Investment Fund.

The company's managing director, Rod Claycomb, had been working on a dairy industry robotic milking project in the early 2000s (the Greenfield Project), and one spin-off of that project looked at fractionating (breaking down milk to its basic components) at that time.

"The robotic milking project was a terrific platform for which to discover new ways to add value to NZ dairy farmers."

The discovery of a new bioactive fraction led to the creation of Quantec, and the development of patents on what has become called IDP.

"The aha moment for us was the discovery of the synergistic effect of a suite of the proteins," Claycomb says. Breaking down these 20 or so proteins to their individual components loses their antimicrobial activity; though the company doesn't yet fully understand why.

"There's a synergist molecular interaction, which shouldn't really be a surprise given our knowledge of how enzymes and other products work," he says.

Since establishing Quantec in 2007, Claycomb and his co-founder, Dr Judy Bragger have worked on the science, and though its first IDP-based products are aimed at human health, the formulation's anti-mastitis attributes is seen as having the greatest potential.

"Ironically, for human health formulations we don't need as many approvals because it isn't a pharmaceutical and is a milk protein," he says.

"We've proven IDP's efficacy in its ability to kill organisms responsible for acne, caries, dental health and bad breath."

Based on this science, the first products containing IDP are to be released by licensed companies in China and America as gums, lozenges and 'chewables'.

"Our business model is as an ingredient supplier," Claycomb says.

"While there are good margins in retail products, that would take a lot of investment to do. We're going to focus on what we're good at; that's intellectual property and discovery."

He says the majority of the recently acquired angel investment will be to provide a proof of principle mastitis efficacy trial in animal health, and setting up a global business development manager to be based in Auckland.

IDP are subcontract manufactured in New Zealand, with this country as a source of origin being one of the product's best selling points.

The concentration of IDP in raw milk is less than 0.1 per cent, and the remaining milk fraction is destined for casein powders,anhydrous milk fat and other high value products, so nothing is wasted.

"We have a disease-free herd, and our milk's considered one of the best in the world," he says.

In three years' time, Claycomb envisages being on target to produce the world's first naturally derived and approved treatment for mastitis.

"That's the goal, our passion lies in that animal health market, although IDP in human health will be significant too," he says.

The mastitis market is huge around the world. Cracking a naturally derived cure, based on a cow's own in-built defence mechanism would be a neat way of treating the disease and more than likely not require the withholding period needed with the use of synthetic antibiotics.

Not bad for an 'aha' moment a few years ago!

Peter Kerr is a journalist, writer and consultant in the innovation space. View his work and that of 35 other scientists and science writers at Sciblogs, New Zealand's largest science blogging network.

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