Over the last year, though, the Malaysian-Australian biotech company has courted a number of headlines in quick succession, the most recent being that it will file for a patent for natural low-GI sugar that it is developing.
This follows the launch, in 2016, of the world’s first clean-label low-GI white bread ingredient that is suitable for diabetics.
It is still very early in this carb quest but Rajen M., Holista’s impeccably connected chairman and chief executive, can clearly see that his business is settling into a new niche with its focus not as firmly fixed on collagen alone.
“Collagen has been put on the back burner, but really the low-GI space is one that we first thought five or six years ago was going to be an interesting space. In the last two years we have seen a lot of traction,” he says, at Holista’s offices outside Kuala Lumpur.
Instead, the company’s emphasis will be placed on building a market for GI Lite, the bread ingredient, and and pushing ahead on the low-GI sugar’s development with the next milestone anticipated midway through this year.
“We have done some work using computer modelling to look at various natural molecules, to tap into their structures. We’ve also done internal primary studies, and we are very confident that we have a low-GI sugar,” Dr Rajen asserts.
“We expect that by June we should have a workable prototype with a very low GI score that uses only natural products.”
But first, Holista’s scientists must venture to America to finalise the formula at a lab. Afterwards, the researchers will head back out on the road to GI centres in America, Britain, Singapore and Australia to validate and cross-validate earlier GI scores.
Once the low-GI bread was launched, Dr Rajen began working with a Nobel prize nominated biochemist Daryl Thompson, one of the world’s most eminent authorities on carbohydrates.
“I had the good fortune to catch up with my co-inventor, who was also co-inventor of the world’s first carbohydrate manager,” says Holista’s chief executive.
This was pioneering work by Thompson, who developed Emulin, a range of supplements combining three plant extracts to help the body manage carbohydrates better.
“We worked with Daryl and we incorporated some of his ideas into what we are doing, and are now looking at the creation of the evolution of a low-GI sugar,” says Dr Rajen.
That Holista has seen its direction swing round to low-GI foods is “just a sign of the times,” he continues. “Consumers want options; they want sweet but at the same time they don’t want the issues around sugar. Regulators are now jumping into the story; they even want to bring in sugar taxes.”
With obesity is at an all-time high, moreover, awareness has grown to the point that concern over sugar is now one the biggest single preoccupations among consumers when they assess food labels. When put together, these factors suggest that Holista has moved to the right place at the right time, part of a small pack of competitors in low-GI ingredients.
Dr Rajen insists that his team were a little surprised by the results of their research, though he must wait a couple more months or so to reveal these due to Holista Colltech’s status as a listed company in Australia.
“We are very encouraged and enthused by [our findings], and trying to speed up the process of development with work being done in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and a lot of work being done in the United States.
“Be they drink manufacturers, or jelly manufacturers or people who take sweetened bread, we will be able to offer them a product that has a lower GI score. Our product can be cooked, caramelised or diluted, it just tastes like normal sugar,” he adds.