Mind the (fiber) gap

In AWA Feature

3 October, 2017

One of the major causes of ill health and disease today is a lack of fiber in our diet, say founders of the Lund based company Carbiotix who want to help people “feel good” with their soluble dietary fiber.

“Our focus is prevention; we simply want to make people feel good,” says Kristofer Cook CEO and Co-Founder of Carbiotix.

“In the adult population of the Western world, and a growing proportion of adults in the developing world as well, we can see that individuals are consuming too many sugars in their diet. In countries like the United States, we also see an overconsumption of protein and trans fats; in fact, it is double what it should be. However, in 80-90% of cases, people are consuming too little fiber.

“Our ambition is to fill that fiber gap.”

Be good to your gut

Together with Peter Falck and two professors, Kristofer founded Carbiotix at the Department of Biotechnology at Lund University in southern Sweden in late 2014. Using a biotechnology based on Peter’s work on prebiotics, the business duo aims to help fill people’s fiber gap as a potentially preventative measure.

“Extensive research shows the potential benefits out there. Generally speaking, and based on research conducted over the last 15 years, fibers address and reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses. Colon cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and heart disease are but a few examples, says Kristofer.

“The theory is simple: Your health is defined in part by your gut. You think you are only feeding yourself, but you are also feeding the bacteria in your colon. The bacteria are a part of you and if you mistreat them, they have a negative effect on your health. Be good to them and they will be good to you in return.”

“Many pharmaceutical companies address the symptoms but fail to look at the underlying problems or causes. We work in a preventative fashion with dietary fibers,” says Peter.

Evolution

The lack of fiber in our diet, especially in the Western world, is a modern phenomenon according to Kristofer and Peter.

“We have evolved over many, many years and it is only recently we have changed the diet of humans, explains Kristofer.

“We were hunters and gatherers. We fasted in periods without access to all these sugars we consume today. We have disturbed our microbiome fundamentally in a very short period. We can see this from generation to generation. It is carried over.”

Your microbiome, which is the bacteria, fungi, and viruses on your body and in your gastrointestinal system, is defined when you are born. If you were born vaginally or via a caesarian determines your microbiome as the bacteria in the vaginal area is naturally transferred from the mother to the child though a vaginal birth. These bacteria help protect a child from illnesses. Children born via caesarians are believed to have a much higher risk of contracting illnesses such as asthma and diabetes due to the lack of beneficial bacteria.

The environment you grew up in also determines your bacteria, as well as your antibiotic use and diet. Research shows that infections and inflammation in your colon are contributing factors to many chronic diseases.

Ingredient vs product

Carbiotix is involved in two projects: a fiber ingredient, which can be used in existing supplements, and a consumer product.

After being awarded numerous prizes and awards for their fiber AXOS, Carbiotix was approached by investors and agricultural companies. They spent two years negotiating a deal with a partner to bring their AXOS ingredient to market in terms of scaling up. The ingredient will be available in the tens of thousands of tons, potentially supplying 5% of the global market. The team is aspiring to have a finished ingredient ready in 2,5 years.

After the partnership was established, Kristofer and Peter’s focus went from taking an ingredient to market to their consumer product: a soluble fiber.

Soluble fibers

“We are building on our biotechnology roots using fibers and we are trying to address a portion of the market which we believe is an interesting opportunity,” says Kristofer.

The recommended daily intake of fiber should be 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Soluble fiber should be about a quarter of the total fiber intake.

“Yet we know people are not consuming enough fiber.”

By offering an affordable yet simplified product to get people to consume more fiber, Kristofer and Peter are aiming to launch their product by the end of 2017. The concept is simple: a fiber-packed powder which you dissolve in any kind of liquid or food. The composition is based on an existing and regulatory approved fibers.

Carbiotix’s business model is to commercialise and market the product whilst driving down the price in an efficient way.

“We are not telling you to change your diet and we don’t want to dictate what you eat. You have your life and your routines. We just want to encourage you to add a bit of fiber consumption to your routine to fill your fiber gap. It is not about diet or exercising from our side. Just consume more fiber and see how you feel.”

No claims

Kristofer and Peter are careful not to make any claims regarding the health benefits of their product or an increased fiber intake.

“It is a slippery slope. If you start talking about health benefits, you get into the prevention of illnesses such as cancer. We can’t make claims as claims require clinical studies and that is counterproductive to driving down the costs. Instead, we encourage people to do online research themselves. We want people to engage in the subject and take their fiber intake seriously, says Kristofer.

“We don’t need to carry out studies because it will be our customers who verify that that it does work.”

Helping malnourished children

An important aspect of Carbiotix business model is social responsibility. Last year alone, a total of 3 million children between the ages of 0 to 5 years died as a result of malnutrition and diarrhea. Dietary fiber could help in preventing this as it regulates the stool and reduces infection.

“We want to allocate a specific portion, e.g. 10%, of our profits to help affected children if we become a successful company, says Kristofer.

“By getting co-financing from other organisations, we want to purchase our ingredient. There are channels to fortify foods that are used to treat these problems. Organisations like Gain in Switzerland have fortification facilities and produce food which goes out to malnourished children.

“This is one of our ambitions. It is embedded in our DNA. It is going to happen and it is only a question of time when we can implement the idea.”

Protection and partnership

A biotech business is not complete without its intellectual property. Carbiotix has registered their trademark and three patents with the help of Awapatent. Having solid IP protection in place has been necessary.

“The largest agricultural companies out there are interested in these soluble fibers. They put a lot of resources into IP. Being a small startup, it has been important for us to get a strong financial partner to help us bring this ingredient to market, broaden our patent portfolio and defend our patents once they are awarded. We would never be able to go up against big global companies on our own. A large company can put you out of business through litigation,” says Kristofer.

The autumn will be hectic for Carbiotix as they are working towards the launch of their product.

“Being a Canadian, we are working like busy beavers”, says Kristofer.

“We will do it initially locally but our ambition is to go global within a relatively short period of time. The concept has applications well beyond Sweden. It could easily move to the United States and the Far East. We want to develop a highly flexible platform with the potential to scale up easily, but without compromising our key elements of simplicity, affordability and effect.”

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