A new start-up called Helaina strives to support parents and newborns through its alternative breast milk developed through precision fermentation. The company is currently in its development phase, and to date, has raised $4 million in funding.
As Laura Katz, the founder of Helaina, explained to me this week, “Our goal is to replicate the immune equivalent proteins found in breast milk.” To develop its alternative breast milk, Helaina is not using cellular cultivation, but is using its own proprietary microbial platform. Through microbial fermentation, proteins are developed that the company says are 99% identical to those found in breastmilk. According to Katz, these proteins can act as antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral agents, and can provide the same immunity for infants that is found in regular breast milk
Helaina is focused predominantly on developing the protein component of breast milk, but Katz said the company will work on the other important components as they grow. When the product is ready to launch, it will likely first be offered in powdered form, with other forms available later on.
A little-known statistic when it comes to breastfeeding is that only 13 percent of all mothers are able to exclusively breastfeed within the first six months of their infant’s life. Most mothers struggle with it at some point, while some parents cannot breastfeed their baby at all. That being said, a few other companies are focused on developing alternative products for infant nutrition.
BIOMILQ cultivates mammary epithelial cells, and grows them in a way that allows them to produce milk. At the beginning of this summer, the company announced it had successfully produced human milk outside of the breast. TurtleTree is using cellular agriculture technology to develop human breast milk, and recently announced its first commercial product would be a protein called lactoferrin.
Helaina is currently working with the FDA to develop a safe product that receives approval. After this step, the company will have a better idea of when it will be able to launch its first product.