Immunity health-trend hits Aussie shores with CSIRO’s lactoferrin venture


Developing lactoferrin in the lab could place Australia at the forefront in transforming the global food industry for infants.
Key Takeaways
  • Australia is in a position to drive future food technology and be a key player on the global scale
  • Lactoferrin helps to build the immune system, it improves iron absorption, it has antimicrobial and antiviral properties
  • Making it cheaper and more accessible means bringing infant formula closer to breast milk
Siobhan Coster is Entrepreneur in Residence at CSIRO, based in Brisbane where developing lactoferrin in the lab could place Australia at the forefront in transforming the global food industry for infants.
Siobhan Coster is Entrepreneur in Residence at CSIRO, based in Brisbane. | Image source: Supplied.

Siobhan Coster is Entrepreneur in Residence at CSIRO, based in Brisbane. She grew up in Melbourne and is working on technology for a more sustainable future for global nutrition. Her company, Eclipse, wants to transform the food industry and make crucial nutrients cheaper and more accessible.

Coster is working in partnership with CSIRO on a food technology startup that sustainably creates nutritional protein ingredients from plants instead of animals, using the world-leading technology of precision fermentation. The goal is to create a new protein system that helps combat the chronic undernutrition that exists globally by increasing the availability of and accessibility to highly valuable nutritional ingredients.

The Venture Science Model will bring together four co-founders who build Eclipse. The co-founders include CSIRO as the research partner, Strategic Investors with sector network / experience, an industry / corporate partner with deep value-chain contribution and Coster as the CEO. 

In a question and answer session, Coster explains more about the work being done and the progress being made:

Siobhan Coster: I’ve been working on this opportunity for over a year after studying an MBA at the University of Queensland. CSIRO had a collaboration with the UQ MBA program to provide opportunities for students to see if they could identify commercialisation pathways for the technology of precision fermentation.

My background is in dietetics and having experience and a love for building and scaling companies, which I have done for the past 10 years, I jumped at being able to combine the two passions.

What’s the dream?

SC: The outcome we want to achieve is to increase accessibility to crucial nutrients by using sustainable, scalable and animal pre-production methods. We know there are millions of people around the world struggling to get enough of the really important nutrients. One of those is the protein called lactoferrin.

Currently we rely on getting lactoferrin from cow milk. But it’s found in really small quantities in cow milk, so it’s really quite scarce in nature. It has expensive extraction methods. So we have small quantities for use in products such as infant formula. That means most infant formula around the world doesn’t contain this important nutrient, as well as other important nutrients, too.

Using the expertise and tech skills of CSIRO, Eclipse is hoping to create an incredible product that will help improve the world’s access to lactoferrin, as well as other nutrients.

How do you create it?

SC: We already use precision fermentation to make rennet for making cheese. We also use precision fermentation to make insulin.

We take the DNA of the nutrient we want, put it into a yeast cell and through the process of fermentation, and not dissimilar to fermenting sourdough bread, or beer, we use bio reactors but in a very controlled scientific process. As the yeast grows, it expresses the nutrient, or the protein, we are wanting to create. Through the use of processes to purify out the lactoferrin, we obtain a really pure form of the protein that we are after.

It allows us to create a powder form or a liquid form of the protein and distribute that to food, drink and supplement manufacturers who can include it in their products. In the case of infant formula, it’s a way of providing the protein to infant formula producers to include in their product.

How can the technology lower the cost?

SC: We’re looking to improve the yield of the proteins. CSIRO has the capability to build that technology so we can create enough of this protein at a cost-effective price. Our goal longterm is to improve accessibility by decreasing the cost of access to these nutrients.

How does the venture science model operate?

SC: We are looking at having a minimum viable product by next year and then to have commercial sales in 2024. It’s fast. One of the things enabling us to get it to market quickly is the venture science model to build the company, bringing in four co-founders having an interest in the company, including an industry partner as one of those co-founders who in return for equity provides their resources, their market insights, their supply chain and distribution networks that can help us get this product to market as quickly as possible.

We focus on where our expertise lies, mine is as the entrepreneur and CEO that is building this business venture, we have CSIRO as the research partner, we have an investor that provides strategic investment and networks, and the fourth piece of that puzzle is that industry partner.

We’re having some great discussions with investors and industry partners that will be in place when we are ready to spin this company out of CSIRO. The company is currently being incubated within CSIRO.

Working with deep tech isn’t a cheap technology. We’ll be looking at the several million dollars area of investment when we spin out the company early next year to get us to that commercial readiness in 2024.

What does it mean for the world?

SC: I believe it is a basic human right to have access to the nutrients that we need to thrive. That’s what gets me passionate about this opportunity. Lactoferrin is the first of many. We’re looking to build a nutritional platform with a focus on proteins to begin with. There are so many we are just not getting enough access to because we need new ways of sourcing access to these nutrients.

These are functional proteins. Lactoferrin helps to build the immune system, it improves iron absorption, it has antimicrobial and antiviral properties. It is known as a wonder protein in terms of its nutritional capability.

How can we use lactoferrin?

SC: There’s a huge health trend around immunity. Lactoferrin has application for boosting our immune system. At the moment, we use cow milk lactoferrin in supplements. There are options for functional food and drinks. The key focus, the long-term strategic plan is for use in infant formula. A lot of infant formula doesn’t currently contain this nutrient.

Dental health is another area, because of antibacterial properties, it can help to prevent bacterial infection. It could be used in cosmetics, anti-acne applications, because of that antibacterial effect.

Human lactoferrin has been known for quite some time, and while other companies are looking at production, we are really excited about the areas of innovation we have around lactoferrin production and differentiating ourselves in this space.

In Australia, we are in a position to drive future food technology, and be a key player on a global scale. Now is the time to establish Australia as a place for precision fermentation and future food technologies.

Where it’s most needed is within infant formula. That’s where we can bring infant formula closer to mother’s milk and give our babies the best start to their life.

The future

SC: Longer term, with Eclipse, I am most excited about improving accessibility to vital nutrients around the world, in developing countries where they don’t have as much access to these nutritional proteins.

With Eclipse, I feel I have really found my purpose. I want to use my skills to bring this precision fermentation technology to Australia and the world. It has the opportunity to reshape the future of our food system.

This protein was the one we felt needed our solution. Lactoferrin is really scarce in nature. It’s really expensive at the moment and it’s virtually absent from infant formula. We think if we can help improve accessibility using sustainable and scalable methods, we have the opportunity to make a difference to the health of babies, and infants, and everybody. It can be taken on a daily basis.

It all has to go through regulatory bodies in each jurisdiction. CSIRO helps through that process.

Lactoferrin is not as well known in Australia. In Asia, it is much better known and one of the biggest regions consuming lactoferrin. It’s about how do we get more of it. The markets are there already.