By Lilian Schaer for AgInnovation Ontario
A biotechnology company in Ontario is expanding its operations to meet growing global demand for its sweet corn-derived glycogen product.
Mirexus Inc., a University of Guelph spin-off company, is building a $6.8 million research and production facility that will have the capacity to produce 16 tons of its trademarked flagship product PhytoSpherix annually.
PhytoSpherix is nano-particulate form of glycogen, currently offered as a key ingredient in personal care and cosmetic products with a particular focus on anti-aging. The product is certified natural, non-toxic, food grade, and biodegradable, making it safe for human use in food and cosmetics. In the long run it has much potential for medical applications as well, such as a nano-carrier or transport system in the body to carry drugs to targeted areas like cancer cells.
To feed the expanded production, Mirexus will need 4,500 acres of sweet corn production per year, creating new market opportunities for farmers. All the sweet corn used to make PhytoSpherix is currently sourced from Ontario, which the company plans to continue doing, says President and CEO Dr. Phil Whiting.
“These are new markets for farmers that aren’t driven by the commodity cycle, and we are using sweet corn varieties available on the market today,” he says. “Forty per cent of the dry corn kernel is the material we use, and that’s what lets us harvest this economically, because there is a lot of it.”
Whiting estimates the company will reach capacity production in the next two to three years and generate over $5 million in annual revenue, enough to reach profitability.
Mirexus was founded by four University of Guelph researchers who discovered and isolated phytoglycogen or plant glycogen from sweet corn. They developed a water-based extraction method that doesn’t destroy the naturally-occurring nanoparticles the way traditional glycogen extraction processes do.
“Ultimately we will produce 16 tons of white powder that looks and tastes like corn starch,” Whiting explains. “Anti-aging is the big play in the personal care market today. PhytoSpherix acts as a nutrient for living skin cells, helping the skin produce more of its own collagen and hyaluronic acid, the way it did when we were young. This results in fewer wrinkles and healthier, smoother skin, which we’ve proven in clinical trials.”
Mirexus’ customers are already using PhytoSpherix in cosmetic and personal care products in Canada, the European Union and Asia, buying quantities from one kilogram to several tons per year. One kilogram sells for approximately $1,000 Canadian.
Future applications for the product include nutrition in support of high performance athletics, reducing the amount of hospital time post-surgery and human medicine solutions like antibiotics and cancer-fighting therapies.
Research projects into new applications for PhytoSpherix are currently underway at multiple Ontario universities, including Guelph, Wilfrid Laurier, Waterloo, Toronto, Western, McMaster and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
Mirexus’ expansion project is supported through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.