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Euromonitor International is pleased to present an interview with Dr Mercade, Associate Professor at the Department of Biology, Health and Environment at the University of Barcelona (Spain) who has discovered a new active ingredient for cosmetic use.

The ingredient, a new marine exopolysaccharide (EPS) produced by the fermentation of a novel Antarctic bacterium, has the joint effect of being both highly emulsifying and has anti-pollution properties which provide both elasticity and strong protection to the human skin against the impact of aggressive environmental conditions and pollution.

In this interview, Dr Mercade explores the science and innovation behind the new ingredient and its functionality, and discusses the competitive advantages as well as the challenges that EPS faces in competing with chemical-based actives and other bio-fermented and natural ingredients in the market. The University is seeking active ingredients manufacturers, biotech or cosmetics companies interested in technology transfer of the patent-pending technology.

The strong emulsifying properties of EPS can open up new opportunities for this ingredient to compete with traditional emulsifiers in skin care formulations. Emulsifiers have registered a CAGR of 9% in skin care applications between 2010-2015; however, they now appears to be slowing down, with a forecast CAGR of 2% over 2015-2020. The market of global emulsifiers in skin care is forecast to reach around 58,000 tonnes by 2020. The replacement of emulsifier ingredients with EPS by 2020 could translate into a demand of 50 tonnes for just a 1% replacement scenario and up to 500 tonnes for a more optimistic 10% replacement.

Potential Volume Growth for EPS 2015 – 2020

EPS potential volume growth to 2020

1. How did the new ingredient idea come about?

In the past 25 years we have been doing research in the isolation and characterisation of a large collection of Antarctic microorganisms. Currently we are focused on several aspects related to these new species driven by the fact that they could have new metabolic capabilities and potential biotechnological applications. The discovery of this new active cosmetic ingredient is based on the fact that one of the most important protective mechanisms of this bacterium against low temperatures in the Antarctica is the production of an exopolychacharide (EPS). In general, biopolymers serve many functions for microorganisms, such as protection against dryness, extreme temperatures, high salinity and toxic compounds. At the same time, biopolymers promote adhesion and are a reserve of nutrients.

2. Is EPS a probiotic ingredient?

EPS is a biopolymer derived from a bacterial fermentation extract and thus it can be considered as a fermentation-derived ingredient rather than a probiotic ingredient as such. The bacterium does not belong to any of the already known probiotics strains and its potential probiotic effects have not been yet tested. The ingredient does not contain any bacterial traces since the bacterium is separated from the fermentation culture.

3. What would the positioning of the ingredient be in terms of price?

The price of cosmetic products containing EPS should be in the same range as other cosmetic products with ingredients obtained by microbial fermentation or by natural product extraction from certain biological specimens like plant or seaweed.

4. How can the ingredient succeed in an increasingly competitive fermented beauty market?

EPS is a completely novel and attractive ingredient obtained from a new species of bacterium completely different from the ones currently used in cosmetics. This bacterium is not in spore form, thus the final product does not contain any spores or living cells. The ingredient has many advantages. It can be provided in lyophilised form which remains stable until its addition to the cosmetic formulation. EPS is highly emulsifying and when added to cosmetic formulations forms long-term stable emulsions at lower concentrations than other commercial emulsifiers. We are also clearly convinced of the antipollution capacity of our ingredient and we are currently developing in vitro assays to demonstrate the ability of our ingredient to retain pollutants and heavy metals.

5. Are there any technical limitations to the use of EPS in cosmetic formulations?

We are not aware of any technical limitation in the formulations so far but one drawback of bio-fermentation processes is the lower yields and longer fermentation times compared to chemical extractions. Fermentation time depends on the working scale but at pilot plant scale this process lasts two weeks, approximately. We have optimised the process at pilot scale and we have obtained much better yields compared to the laboratory tests and we expect that moving to industrial scale can additionally increase fermentation yields and reduce the production costs.

6. Would EPS affect the efficacy and appearance of cosmetic products?

In fact, EPS would increase the efficacy of the cosmetic product providing extra benefits to the skin. We have scientific evidence that proves that the ingredient provides simultaneously elasticity and dermo-protection to human skin in only nine days. These highly surprising and positive results suggest that lower doses may have similar effects when applied for longer periods. We are now in the process of proving the ability of our ingredient to trap pollutants and avoid cell toxicity. Regarding the texture of products containing EPS, emulsions made with 2% EPS, cosmetic oil and water had a creamy consistency and show long-term stability.

7. Why would companies choose this ingredient over rival ones?

Because we are talking about a new ingredient with new properties that currently does not exist in the market. This is a natural bio-product obtained by fermentation of a new Antarctic bacterium. This process is sustainable and scalable to industrial production. The strain comes from a unique environment, Antarctica, but it has completely different composition and properties to other cosmetic ingredients from the Antarctic. One of the best known in the market is Antarticine® which was also developed by our group. The new EPS is completely different in composition, structure and properties. Moreover, EPS has a cryoprotectant function against the loss of viability due to freezing as demonstrated by the higher survival rates of strain protected by the ingredient after freezing.

8. Has any company already shown some interest in the technology?

Yes, several companies specialised in the development of active ingredients for cosmetic uses have contacted us. We are discussing and evaluating potential ways for collaboration or agreement for this new interesting technology with them. At this moment, we have not signed any licence agreement or license option. So we are completely open to discuss with new companies interested in our ingredient.

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