Helaina on track to deliver breast milk-equivalent baby formula

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

Image courtesy of Helaina
Image courtesy of Helaina

Related tags Infant nutrition Infant formula Breastfeeding infant microbiome Supply chain

The New York City-based company was founded in 2019 by food scientist Laura Katz who aspired to advance nutrition by recreating the functional components of breast milk. The lab produces microbes, ferments, and runs immunity testing.

Helaina, the creators behind advanced infant formula with proteins identical to those found in breast milk, recently announced the expansion of its leadership team on the heels of a $20 million Series A fundraise. Three new hires, Anthony Clark, Chief Technology Officer; Marie-Claude Tremblay, Head of Infant Formula; and Ashley Larkin, Head of Talent, mark a milestone in the company’s growth.

“This group of all-star leaders bring industry expertise to Helaina as we accelerate our growth and work toward bringing our advanced infant formula to market, which will provide infants with crucial bioactive properties that traditional formula lacks. In the middle of a national infant formula shortage, it’s now more important than ever to deliver more options for parents to feed their babies, and I’m confident this team will make that a reality,”​ said Laura Katz, Founder and CEO of Helaina.

Navigating regulatory hurdles

Helaina utilizes precision fermentation to recreate immune-equivalent proteins previously only available in breast milk, bridging the gap between traditional formula and breastfeeding.

“I understand the regulatory challenges Helaina will face,” ​said Anthony Clark, Chief Technology Officer at Helaina. “And, I’m excited to help guide the team to more effectively and more nimbly negotiate those challenges, ultimately bringing Helaina’s enhanced infant formula to market quicker.”

“When innovating for infant nutrition, there is a higher bar for safety at every stage of development and manufacturing,” ​explained Katz, a food scientist. “We welcome this high bar, and believe that it is a gateway for the future of nutrition. Making nutritional ingredients like bioactive proteins and lipids through fermentation for the purpose of innovating infant nutrition has the potential to unlock key components for the future of nutrition for all populations.”

Path to commercialization

Beyond the new hires, Katz told NutraIngredients-USA​ that the funding will help accelerate the company’s path toward commercialization to provide parents with freedom of choice when it comes to feeding their baby.

“As we’ve seen in recent months with the infant formula shortage, parents who can’t or choose not to breastfeed are limited in their options, and dependent on a vulnerable supply chain. In the US, more than 75% of formula production is consolidated to two manufacturers—that’s a recipe for unreliability. We are disrupting that limited competition and looking forward to providing more choice for parents,”​ said Katz.

Katz told us that the shortage has exposed how the infant formula category has been stagnant since the 1960s, when commercial formula first became widely available. “This attention has allowed us at Helaina to share our vision for a future where breastfeeding should not define the health of a child or the worth of a parent. It also provided a platform for me to speak up about some of the challenges in the industry and point to the power of food science, and specifically fermentation, as part of the solution to solving the formula crisis.”

Laura Katz / Image courtesy of Helaina

Coming soon

The food scientist explained that infant formula requires clinical data to prove safety and tolerance, so our timeline for launching is longer than most other foods. “We embrace the extra safety regulations and are working hard to get our first product on the shelves as soon as possible."

Katz told NutraIngredients-USA​ that she is expecting a baby soon and can’t wait to be a mom. “Although I am hoping to breastfeed, I also understand that it’s not always an option—nor is it sustainable for the first two years of life. I wish our product was available today, but our team is working fast and hard to bring the first humanized infant formula to market. We're excited to be playing a critical role in the industry as we work to provide immunity benefits to babies and more choices for parents.”

Freedom of choice—at least for infant nutrition

“Helaina is founded on the idea that families should have freedom of choice. We’re devastated by this month’s abortion decision from the US Supreme Court, but resolved in our mission to give parents the freedom of choice in feeding their infant. By expanding choice, we hope to help address another problem: gender inequality in the workplace. Providing a reliable supply of infant formula that parents feel good about feeding their babies can be a powerful step toward addressing gender equality in the workplace,”​ said Katz.

Related topics R&D Nutritionals Functional Dairy

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