HMO foray: Kirin subsidiary to produce ingredient for infant nutrition and dietary supplements in Thailand

By Guan Yu Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Kyowa Hakko Bio's new facility in Thailand to supply HMOs worldwide  ©Kirin
Kyowa Hakko Bio's new facility in Thailand to supply HMOs worldwide ©Kirin

Related tags Japan Kirin Kyowa hakko Infant nutrition HMO

Kirin subsidiary Kyowa Hakko Bio will manufacture and supply three human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) at its new Thailand facility by 2022 – both for its parent company and the wider market.

Thai Kyowa Biotechnologies, Kyowa Hakko Bio’s subsidiary in Thailand, will operate the facility located at Rayong Province, manufacturing three HMOs namely 2FL (2'-fucosyllactose), 3SL (3'-sialyllactose), and 6SL (6'-sialyllactose).

The HMOs will be used for Kirin’s own product development, as well as supplied to the infant nutrition and dietary supplement industries. As of now, Kirin Group has not developed any finished products containing HMO.

The Thailand plant is Kyowa Hakko Bio’s first production facility, and can reach capacity of 300 metric tonness per year.

HMO surge

HMOs are the third most common component in human breast milk, after lactose and lipid.

There have been more than 250 HMOs identified in human breast milk, including 2FL, 3SL and 6SL.

Recent studies have shown that HMOs promote brain development in newborns, develop immune system, increase resistance to infection, and have anti-inflammatory effect.

In adults, HMOs have been studied on its effects on gut health​, brain function​, relieving allergy symptoms​, and immune health​.

It has also been reported that HMOs can increase the number of bifidobacteria​ and improve the intestinal environment.

In Asia, interest in HMO as a functional ingredient has been growing in infant and follow-up formulas, with HMO-containing products sold in Singapore, Vietnam and China.

According to Kirin’s in-house data, there are currently no HMO-containing infant formula in Japan. In 2019, only 6% of infant formula globally contained HMOs, a jump from just zero in 2016.

Kentaro Yanashima, project manager at Kyowa Hakko Bio, told NutraIngredients-Asia ​the HMO market was still at its infancy, but awareness has been growing.

The firm hopes that with its new manufacturing site, it can increase HMO-containing infant formula to 40% by 2030.

Besides infant nutrition, there have been increasing number of companies developing food and supplement products containing HMOs.

Globally, HMO has been approved for use in food products in US and Europe, but not in Japan.

Yanashima explained: “One of the reasons why the Japanese authority have not yet approved HMO is because the Japanese infant formula market size accounts for just 1% of the global market. So, HMO suppliers tend to place less emphasis on the Japan market​.”

According to Yanashima, the HMOs produced in its Thailand facility will be supplied mainly to Europe. “At the time of launch in 2022, Europe is expected to be the main market, but demand in China and South East Asia is expected to grow significantly by 2030.

We expect the Chinese market to grow at more than 20% of CAGR between 2022 and 2030, and the size of the Chinese market for infant formula products alone is expected to exceed JPY 40 billion (US$380m) by 2030.”

While the primary focus is on infant nutrition, Yanashima said the firm plans to expand HMO applications into adult foods, and supplements for cognition and immunity in the future.

On why the firm chose to locate a manufacturing site in Thailand instead of its home market Japan, the firm said this would provide secure supply capacity and cost competitiveness while remaining proximity to large consumption markets.

Kyowa Hakka Bio’s HMOs will be produced through the fermentation and purification processes.

Yanashima explained that the firm uses its microbial strains to manufacture 2FL, 6SL and 3SL.

We ferment the strains with raw materials like simple sugars and culture media to grow the strains. We then inactivate the fermentation broth and purify it to a powder form.​”

The firm is currently preparing to apply for the US FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) status for its HMO products.

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