New technology for vitamin C production may end Chinese monopoly
Jayashree Padmini – New Delhi
The Chinese clutch over vitamin C market would not last long. If the technology developed at the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) is successfully scaled-up for commercial production, this could prove to be a better alternative to the Chinese technology of vitamin C production, which is exclusively held by five Chinese companies.
SCRI has successfully developed a single step fermentation method to produce vitamin C and is scouting for partners for commercial scale up of the technology. Roberto Viola, SCRI, informed Express Pharma Pulse that the two-year project is completed and SCRI is in the process of securing intellectual property rights. ‘‘We have developed a proprietary technology for the conversion of L-sorbose to L-ascorbic acid using a single-step fermentation process. This is laboratory scale at the moment and once patent is filed we will explore joint venture opportunities for scaling up and refinement of the technology,’’ said Viola.
The Scottish Crop Research Institute has been working on the development of a yeast-based single-step process for the manufacture of L-Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) for the past two years. The Scottish team has developed yeast strains with the capacity to synthesise vitamin C from inexpensive sugar precursors providing an alternative and environment friendly method for vitamin C manufacture. D-Glucose is converted to vitamin C via a series of chemical steps and a one-step bacterial fermentation. The work is aimed at exploiting the similarity of the two biosynthetic pathways and in extending the metabolic capacity of yeast to allow the efficient synthesis of vitamin C.
In India also research is on to develop alternative technology for production of vitamin C and the CSIR lab, RRL Jammu has developed a technology to produce D Ascorbic Acid from glucose using fermentation process.
Genentech Inc, Genencore Inc and Eastman Chemical Company also have been individually working to develop technology for production of Vitamin C and have filed for US patents.
Reichstein process, the old method of Vitamin C production, involves steps using environmentally hazardous chemicals and steps requiring high energy consumption. The SCRI project reduces environmental harm in vitamin C manufacturing by replacing this chemical synthesis with yeast fermentation. Although, a number of fermentation methods currently exist for the synthesis of intermediates in the Reichstein process, it is for the first time microbial fermentation method has been developed. However, the technology is still in the nascent stage and it needs to be scaled up to ensure economical synthesis of vitamin C in a single step on a commercial scale.
It may be noted that there are multiple research work going on across the world to develop viable technology for Vitamin C production thereby to end the Chinese monopoly. The US-based Genentech Inc has patented methods for producing ascorbic acid using recombinant means comprising the transfer of genetic material by conjugation, a host cell lacking, entirely or to such an extent as not to be commercially useful, one or more enzymes in the metabolic path converting glucose to 2 keto-L-gulonic acid. After a Chinese research team developed the two-stage fermentation process for vitamin C in the mid 1980’s, Chinese producers adopted the new technology which paved way for highly economic production and Chinese prevailed the Vitamin C market. All major Vitamin C players in the world including BASF, Merck and Roche were severely affected by Chinese competition. The Indian player Sarabhai Chemicals had to almost shut shop. Although about 28 plants were built in China initially for Vitamin C production most of them closed down owing to drastic drop in Vitamin C prices. The technology was confined to five Chinese companies and later on it was understood to be licensed to Roche and a joint venture by BASF and Merck. However, Indian manufacturers do not have access to the technology so far, but is importing K Gulonic Acid from China.