Glycom - World-leading supplier of HMOs

Monday 02 Mar 20

Biotech company Glycom has cracked the code for producing HMOs, normally only found in breast milk, to improve human health and has since become a world leading supplier of HMOs. The company started as a DTU spinout, and was recently acquired by DSM for DKK 5.7 billion.

Ever since the late 1800s, it has been a known fact that HMOs in breast milk are key ingredients in infant nutrition and have very beneficial impacts on babies’ health.

"we bring an increasing amount of HMOs to market with the ambition of covering more and more of what a mother can produce for her child"
Odd Erik Hansen, Chief Executive Officer, Glycom

In 2005, five carbohydrate chemists from around Europe, including a researcher from DTU, founded the biotech company Glycom to produce and use HMOs to improve human health. First for babies and later for adults.

At the same time, Nestlé was looking into how they could incorporate HMOs in their baby formula. They soon ventured into a collaboration that would eventually make Glycom one of the world's leading supplier in the Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMO) market.

HMOs for human health

Glycom's initial test results showed that babies, who had received HMOs in the first 12 months, were far less likely to get bronchitis and lower respiratory tract infections. They also showed that the babies needed 30 percent less antibiotics and antipyretics during those 12 months. Due to the positive data, Glycom’s ingredients are now used in Nestlé’s baby formula.

“It is mothers who have perfected the HMOs over thousands of years. We have found a way to produce and use them”, says Odd Erik Hansen, Chief Executive Officer at Glycom.

Next, Glycom launched food supplements with HMOs that improve digestive health for people of all ages.

”We found that they function as prebiotics that feed your friendly gut bacteria and strengthen the gut barrier”, Odd Erik Hansen explains.

A massive potential

Breast milk contains over 200 different kind of HMOs, and Glycom is constantly working on identifying the specific benefits of all HMOs to expand their business and bring more of their technology to people.

While they currently have 4 HMO products on the market, they expect to launch 2 more in 2020 and an additionally 2 in 2021.

“We have a roadmap where we bring an increasing amount of HMOs to market with the ambition of covering more and more of what a mother can produce for her child”, says Odd Erik Hansen.

The next HMOs they introduce to the market are also believed to benefit the brain and cognitive development. They already have data that shows that HMOs can help balance the interaction between the gut and the brain and thereby reduce fatigue and improve mental health. Results show that test subjects sleep better and have less anxiety and headaches.

The company is now working with DTU’s PhD students, among others, to identify the use of other HMOs that will eventually become commercially available as well.

They had their commercial breakthrough in 2018 where their revenue increased tenfold, and they became frontrunners on the HMO market that many refers to as the Holy Grail within infant nutrition.

Last week Glycom was sold for DKK 5.7 billion - a giant leap towards a bright future.