The food processing industry is experiencing a genuine boom, driven by the many challenges facing humanity in this area, which range from improving sustainability and ingredient production to accessing food and reducing waste.
Research has undoubtedly been a key factor contributing to further development in recent decades. Particularly relevant has been the sector of functional foods given their qualities to improve health and reduce the risk of disease thanks to their content of biologically active components.
This is the context in which Nucaps Nanotechnology operates, a company linked to the University of Navarra and one that has been recognised with a lengthy list of international awards, including this year’s 2021 ‘Most Innovative Foodtech Startup of the Year’, awarded by the prestigious international platform Food 4 Future.
In this interview, its CEO, Mariano Oto, explains its technology and the current stage of the project.
Encapsulation: a safe and effective technological solution
What is NuCaps?
Nucaps is a technology-based company that markets products with a high added value and provides research, development and technological transfer services to the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, food and cosmetic industries.
What does your technology entail?
The technology we develop is based on the use of natural food proteins that allow us to encapsulate and protect bioactive compounds and probiotics for their natural, safe and effective oral administration. In fact, encapsulated compounds facilitate their incorporation into food matrices or products, providing a significant health benefit and thus prevent the onset of certain pathologies and improve body function.
Can you give us an example of a product that has reached or could reach the consumer?
A good example is milk protein-encapsulated probiotics that can be incorporated into dairy products, which have the result of improving immune and metabolic systems.
Another example is plant protein-encapsulated probiotics for incorporation into bakery products and snacks that provide gut health benefits.
We are also developing plant protein-based nutritional supplements to help control blood sugar or plant-based products with a better nutritional profile thanks to the incorporation of protein-encapsulated nutrients.
What are the main advantages of the products you have developed and what is your competitive edge against other active ingredient release technologies?
Encapsulation provides greater stability and useful life to the ingredient, masking of odours and flavours, a stable suspension in different matrices, a significant increase in absorption and bioavailability (up to 30 times) and better thermal resistance for sterilisation and industrial processes.
The use of food proteins allows the final product to be clean-label, in addition to adding the nutritional properties of the protein coating itself. The technology also provides flexibility to adapt developments and processes to different substances (extracts, compounds, oils, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols, bacteria, enzymes, etc.) and applications (dispersible powder products, food matrices, creams, liquids, etc.), and all of this with much lower production costs than other technological solutions and with proven greater efficiency, total safety and natural ingredients.
Origins and evolution
How did NuCaps start? What has been the role of the University of Navarra?
Nucaps has emerged to bring to the market the technology developed by a consortium led by the University of Navarra. The use and exploitation of the technology was transferred to Nucaps.
The University of Navarra holds a stake in the company and has a presence on its board of directors. Moreover, said institution has cooperation agreements both with professionals working as external consultants and for using facilities and equipment, in addition to cooperating in a variety of R&D projects (BIOFOOD, BIOCAPS, IMMUNOCAPS, GLUCOCAPS, MICROBIOMICS, etc.).
What stage is NuCaps at today?
Nucaps has scaled the technology and has signed development contracts with clients in 8 countries. The next step will be to increase production to be able to provide a better service and access new clients and markets, thus accelerating the company’s growth.
You have received several awards throughout your trajectory. What has been their impact on your evolution?
These awards have significantly boosted our development as they have allowed us to make our technology known and have granted us access to large companies with which we have worked jointly in order to improve the properties of their products, using natural and safe ingredients, with the Health Inside concept that our technology provides.
A developing technology protected by IP rights
How important do you consider the protection of industrial property for your evolution and success?
The protection of Industrial Property rights is decisive for validating the technology, for adding value to the company and for defending the competitive edge. The technology has been protected both through patents and with the Trade Secret Protection Plan that Nucaps started in 2020.
You have mentioned “technological transfer services”. How do you manage industrial property in these cases?
It differs from case to case; there are developments for which exclusive exploitation rights are granted to the client, while in other cases we maintain the ownership or co-ownership of the technology. Usually, the generated IP is protected by Nucaps’ patents.
You have designated an extensive number of countries for your four international patent applications. Which countries do you think offer the greatest potential for your technology?
For the time being, we think the biggest potential lies both in Europe and the USA. However, the Asian market is also deserving of our attention. For all these reasons, the technology is protected in several countries in order to expand our business opportunities.
Do you consider the foodtech sector to be familiar with intellectual and industrial property management and that it gives it the attention it deserves?
In most cases we have noticed there is certain knowledge about Industrial Property management and it is protected in the most adequate way. However, we can’t assert that this is the case for the entire foodtech sector.
How does ABG Intellectual Property collaborate with NuCaps? How would you describe your experience with us?
Our partnership is ongoing and constant, both for processing patents and maintaining the same and for highly qualified consulting on both technological monitoring and applying for new patents. We must highlight the strong technical and scientific knowledge of the ABG team that is ready to propose solutions and alternatives at every stage of IP protection for advanced technologies.