Analytical Services news

Cawthron technical consultant, Craig Waugh, inspects a marine toxin sample.
1 May 2015

Turning clever science into commercial reality

Cawthron Institute's ability to turn research into commercial reality has earned it a place in the finals of the KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards.

Celebrating excellence

Cawthron has been named as one of four finalists in the 'Commercial Deal' category of the Awards for securing a global distribution agreement for its unique, high-value marine toxins, with Sigma-Aldrich Corporation – the world's leading chemical supply company.

The Commercial Deal Award celebrates excellence in research commercialisation delivering outstanding innovation, performance and the potential for generating significant economic impact for New Zealand. Other finalists in this category are Plant & Food Research, ESR and University of Waikato.

Unique expertise

"Cawthron is one of only a few organisations in the world capable of producing these purified marine natural toxins," Cawthron Institute Chief Executive, Professor Charles Eason, says. "These are very high value manufactured exports for niche markets."

The export earning potential of these marine toxins is staggering and "as little as a teaspoon full could be worth up to NZ$5 million but, it's a very small, niche market and they're sold in minute (microgram or milligram) quantities."

Global distribution

Last year, Cawthron announced it had secured a new global distribution agreement with the US-based chemical supply company.

"We identified an opportunity to work with Sigma-Aldrich to produce and provide these toxins on a global scale, and they were very supportive, acknowledging our leadership and expertise in this area, and were keen to respond to the growing demand for these products," Cawthron Institute's Analytical Services Technical Manager Dr Paul McNabb says.

Cawthron not only secured a major international distributor for its marine toxins, but it created the demand for them in the first place. The pure toxins are now required by the world's seafood testing laboratories because of work done by Cawthron's analytical chemists to improve international testing standards. Cawthron produces the toxins using a highly-sophisticated process developed at the Institute, involving extracting, isolating and purifying the bioactive compounds from toxin-producing microalgae (tiny marine plants) that are grown and processed on site.

Economic returns

In recognising Cawthron's achievement, KiwiNet General Manager Dr Bram Smith says that the agreement with Sigma-Aldrich, "has already created commercial revenues to Cawthron and demonstrates that the outcomes of publicly funded research can form the basis for outstanding commercial deals that generate significant economic returns to New Zealand".

New opportunities

Professor Eason says Cawthron is already looking into new, lucrative opportunies for microalgae in the areas of high-value nutrition and for human health.

"Biotechnology, particularly for microalgae, is an area that has huge economic potential for New Zealand," he says.

"Cawthron is a world-leader in all aspects of microalgae, from how they grow and behave, to how to harness and apply the powerful natural properties they contain. We're always looking at new ways we can apply that expertise to advance and add value to New Zealand's burgeoning biotechnology sector."