Chalk it up to coincidence, serendipity … or the entrepreneurial startup environment that permeates Northern Alberta.
Edmonton-based Ceapro Inc. is a biotechnology company that uses its proprietary technology to extract natural ingredients from oats and other plants, ingredients used by major players in the personal and health care industries.
Ceapro was challenged, as were most other companies in the natural extraction business, by a simple problem. It’s very hard to dry down the water based-natural biopolymers – the active ingredient from within natural sources – to a dry form.
It often takes heat to dry, and heat tends to weaken or kill the most important ingredient Ceapro seeks to extract from its specialty oats.
“Everybody in the industry faces the same problem,” says Ceapro’s Corporate Affairs, Planning & Development Director Dr. Megan Lee. Consequently, Ceapro must currently ship all its product in liquid form – which works for its personal care and health care customers, but is a barrier for Ceapro to move into pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products – products that need to be dried or powdered to be made, for instance, into tablets, pills or supplements.
Then Ceapro recruited Dr. Bernhard Seifried, a researcher who’d just finished his PhD at the University of Alberta, working with Dr. Feral Temelli a professor of food process engineering.
And what had the two of them developed in their lab just across the North Saskatchewan River from Ceapro’s downtown Edmonton office?
A novel moderate-temperature spray-drying technique for water-soluble biopolymers such as Ceapro’s core value product, oat beta glucan, which is already well known for its cholesterol lowering properties.
Ceapro wasted no time entering into a partnership with Dr. Temelli and the University of Alberta, for its part undertaking the research necessary to cost-effectively “scale up” the spray-drying process from laboratory to industry quantities.
That work completed, opportunities now abound for Ceapro, especially as the company will be moving into new manufacturing space this summer, with the consequential opportunity to install new processing equipment using Dr. Temelli and Dr. Seifried’s “PGX Technology” to make powdered oat extract products. Products that, because they can be powdered, will attract interest from the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries.
TEC Edmonton has long supplied business expertise to Ceapro from its Business Development division.
And as the commercialization agent for University of Alberta technologies, TEC Edmonton Technology Transfer officer Darrell Petras negotiated the terms of the licensing agreement giving Ceapro the right to use PGX Technology. News of the licensing deal was considered of sufficient interest to warrant coverage in the Association of University Technology Managers weekly newsletter.
Already, multi-national food and natural drug processors have approached Ceapro with interest in sub-licensing PGX’s drying technology. It represents game-changing commercial technology, which “could also attract investments from large pharmaceutical industry players for Alberta,” added Dr. Lee.
“This partnership between Ceapro and the University of Alberta is a great example of translational research, from lab to the marketplace,” says Ceapro President and CEO Gilles Gagnon.
TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb, for his part, is thrilled to see University of Alberta technology being licensed locally … to a TEC Edmonton client to boot.
“This project exemplifies the high level of innovation happening at the University of Alberta,” says Lumb. “The agreement will create jobs and export revenue in the Edmonton region. It demonstrates the importance of local licensing as a way to develop economic diversity, and to increase linkages between universities and their communities.”