Industry: Bioscience & Medical
Products: Contract manufacturing for liposome-based vitamins and supplements
Founder Emek Blair sees potential for his innovative liposomal delivery platform in a wide range of supplements and pharmaceuticals.
Valimenta has developed a process to safely and organically wrap vitamins, nutrients, and active compounds in molecules of fat. This new method of making liposomes (microscopic spheres encased in fatty layers) is a trade secret, with end products such as powder, gels, sprays, and liquids that have a two-year shelf life.
For Blair, it's all about better absorption of active ingredients of all kinds. "Basically, what I look for is problems that need to be solved," he says. "In different arenas, there are different problems. The question is: Do I have the intellectual property and do we have the right skill set to solve the problem?"
Valimenta-made products "package vitamins into a bubble that the body can recognize and absorb at a high rate," says Blair. "We're mimicking how the body absorbs nutrients." These liposomal particles are as small as 50 nanometers across, and delivered in a gluten-, alcohol-, soy-free liquid made from sunflower oil and other ingredients.
"There's that old Japanese adage: If all you use is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail," says Blair. "When you look at the science, every different molecule has a different reason it doesn't absorb in your body. Vitamin C's a classic. It upsets your stomach, so you basically get diarrhea. Things like CBD and turmeric are rejected by your liver. Other ingredients, your stomach destroys the ingredients."
He continues, "I designed a few different delivery systems to overcome those different challenges. Some ingredients need to be protected from the stomach. Some ingredients need the stomach to be protected from the ingredients. Some ingredients need to bypass the liver. So now we have this platform of a variety of different delivery technologies, and we apply the appropriate one accordingly."
Valimenta, a contract manufacturer for liposome-based supplements, is now at the center of a "family" of several related companies, including Fort Collins-based CELLg8; Fort Collins-based Puffin Hemp; and newly minted biotech startup, Cachexinol.
"These are all separate, independent companies," says Blair. "Separate facilities, separate staff, separate accounting, separate everything."
With CELLg8, "We've branded ourselves kind of like the Intel Inside concept," says Blair. "We don't necessarily make the products, we make the products work."
The CELLg8 name refers to the technology being "the eighth-generation delivery system," he adds. "Each one of these is an evolution of liposomes. . . . Liposomes are great. They've been around the '60s. It's a great technology, but it's got to move on. It can't just be the same thing we used in the '60s -- it's six decades later."
Irvine, California-based Orchid Essentials has licensed the technology for its THC products through yet another related company, CELLg8 Technologies. "The problem is people don't want to smoke -- it's bad for your lungs," says Blair. "Vaping is a bad word now. We all saw what happened the last six months. The problem with edibles is you eat them and you really don't get the effects until 45 minutes to an hour and a half later."
Blair says it is about accelerating the onset of the THC's effects. "We're applying our technology to deliver THC so people can feel the effects within a few minutes, so they don't go overboard," he explains. "Formulation is done, and we're very close to getting our first production run."
Puffin Hemp likewise utilizes CELLg8 technology. "A lot of people just don't absorb CBD," Blair notes. "You can give it to them, but you just can't find it in their blood, which begs the question: Is there something wrong with their gut or does it just not work for a lot of people? We found that we could overcome that issue with our delivery technology. It absorbs without issue, and you can find it in your blood at high rates."
Blair says the company has published peer-reviewed papers that illustrate the efficacy of liposomal technology with CBD absorption of 85 to 90 percent.
Cachexinol is leveraging liposomal technology to treat cachexia co-founded by Lingbing Zhang of the Stanford School of Medicine. "When people who have cancer are wasting away to nothing, that's called cachexia," says Blair. "We have a formulation that really helps. . . . People can regain the weight that they were losing." Cachexinol research is ongoing, but he says the initial results are showing promise.
Blair passed Valimenta's CEO duties to Tom Gillespie in August 2018 to focus on the science side of the businesses. "He takes care of everything [at Valimenta], which allows me to focus on other companies that need more attention," says Blair. "There are so few companies out there doing what we do. We're really the only one to invest in the science and invest in proving our products work via human clinical studies."
Challenges: "The current state of the world," says Blair. "With coronavirus, everything is different. Things that used to take a few days now take a week, especially with testing and things like that. Things are just moving a lot slower now."
That makes contingency planning more important than ever. "You've got to reinforce your supply chain," he says. "Month over month, we're growing, so we just have to be vigilant and be aware that we always have to keep extra material on hand and continuously increase our capacities so that we can continue to service all of the partner companies we work with."
Opportunities: Exports are on the rise. "We're seeing significant growth, especially overseas," says Blair. "We've penetrated the European market very, very strongly. We've penetrated the Canadian market more and more, and our sales in Asia have really started to skyrocket as well as the Oceania area and South Africa."
Blair also points to Cachexinol as a growth driver in the next year. "I think Cachexinol by the end of 2020 is going to be the big thing," he says. "We're going to be bringing in something truly unique to the marketplace. The barrier to entry is significant. Doing all these studies and showing that you're helping with cachexia is something truly unique. It's high demand, because people who need it need it. There's just not a lot of competition."
He calls Cachexinol a "socially conscious company" with a plan to bring the product to market at a $50 monthly cost. In 2016, nearly 200,000 hospital stays were attributable to cachexia in the U.S.
Needs: "As always, what we need is more good team members and more partners that want to have products that are clinically backed and absorb at very high rates," says Blair.