22 Dec 2011

PhotoNZ scaling up EPA production

5:16 pm on 22 December 2011

Auckland-based biotechnology company PhotoNZ is to lift the manufacture of its Omega 3 fatty acid product EPA to an industrial scale next year.

EPA is traditionally extracted from fish oil but PhotoNZ has developed a fermentation process to produce it from marine microalgae.

The finished product is an active ingredient in drugs to treat cardiovascular disease.

Chief executive Greg Moss-Smith says world demand for EPA is exploding and there's a widespread belief there is not enough fish oil to satisfy demand.

He says the company's process allows PhotoNZ to produce a sustainable, consistent product that can be scaled to whatever quantity is required.

Mr Moss-Smith says the founder of the company - who is no longer with PhotoNZ - began experimenting with a microscopic marine plant in his garage and gradually bred them to get the best possible source of EPA. The company was set up in 2002.

He says all the development hurdles have now been cleared.

Private investment

Mr Moss-Smith says about $12 million has been invested in the company in the past four years - most of it from private investors and the remainder from government grants for the R&D component.

He says PhotoNZ will use contract facilities overseas to produce EPA commercially, doing away with the need to construct its own plant.

It has already shown this can be done with a successful trial in a Canadian facility using PhotoNZ's algal strain and process.

Mr Moss-Smith says the processing has to be done overseas because no New Zealand facilities are large enough.