Nutraceuticals, for those who sauntered in late to the health show, are nutrients or food believed to have health-promoting or disease-preventing properties. More importantly, nutraceuticals are becoming big business in a world beset by lifestyle health disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and digestive ailments. What nutraceuticals offer is a prevention-without-sacrifices solution.
The technologies currently available for producing oligosaccharides deliver a low yield and a purity of 50-55 per cent. The Tata Chemicals team working on this project — comprising Ganapathi Patil, Manish Jain, Shankar Lade, Manoj Gote, R Saravanan, Uday Avalakki, Rajiv Agarwal, P Maheswaran, S Narayanan and Ravi Adgualwar — have concentrated their attention on creating high-purity oligosaccharides.
The problem the team faced was eliminating the sucrose and other reducing sugars that remain in oligosaccharides, and which have to be removed through elaborate processing. The team found that the cleansing process was limited by the presence of inhibiting by-products such as reducing sugars. That led to the search for microorganisms that could handle the inhibiting products and these were finally isolated. "We optimised the blend ratio of these microorganisms and we had a final product that was more than 95 per cent pure," says a team member.
The process was validated at laboratory scale but the team had no facilities to check on a larger scale. The Tata Chemicals people then had to partner a number of external agencies to get the different pieces of the process puzzle in place. The final high-purity liquid and powder obtained were given to prospective customers, who were excited about their quality and purity. There were additional positives: higher shelf life, better prebiotic activity, safeness for diabetics and usefulness for pharmaceutical preparations and infant formulations.
The high purity and the comparative costs of the oligosaccharides that the Tata Chemicals team worked on have attracted a good number of customers. However, to mitigate the risk of high capital investments, a contract manufacturing company has been identified to set up a plant for production. The plan as of now is to establish the product in the market and then think of investing to take production to a higher scale.
Tata Chemicals is also partnering two companies that have expertise in developing formulations and premixes for easy introduction in food products and pharmaceutical preparations. The longer-term objective is to market the ingredients and formulations in India and then take them to the international market.
The proof of the oligosaccharides pudding is in the testing and Tata Chemicals has done well enough there. Now comes the next step and a healthy one at that.
Tata Chemicals was one of 13 award winners at the Tata Innovista 2011, the annually held celebration of creativity in the Tata group. Read about the other winners and the innovations that brought them to centre stage >>