Research Park News

September 1, 2016

Purdue startup receives $750,000 NSF grant to advance sustainable ingredients for drug, food, personal care industries

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Phytoption LLC, a startup based on a Purdue University innovation, received $750,000 in a SBIR Phase II award from the National Science Foundation to advance its development of natural extracts and their derivatives for use in drug, food and personal care products.

Joanne Zhang, co-founder of Phytoption, said the company's products, SoluPhy™ series of ingredients, are originally derived from crops and can help formulate active ingredients and make those ingredients more soluble, stable and effective.

"Phytoption is one of the first to successfully transform high-value, insoluble ingredients to soluble forms for use in food, supplements, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics," Zhang said. "By making these ingredients more soluble, we can enhance their efficacy and safety in various products."

Led by Henry Havel, principal investigator at Phytoption and a retired research leader from Eli Lilly and Co., Phytoption's scientific team comprises experts in food science, biology and drug development, which highlights its dedication in serving customers in the food, personal care, and pharmaceutical industries.  

"It is estimated that about 40 percent of new drug molecules have drug delivery issues due to their low solubility," Havel said. "For chemicals in the drug discovery stage, the percentage of insoluble compounds can be much higher. Finding ways to improve the solubility of these molecules is essential to more successful drug discovery, development and commercialization."  

Phytoption's formulations have been proven to enable poorly water-soluble actives, such as antioxidants and anticancer drugs. Its technology helps enhance the efficacies of numerous active ingredients.

"We also hope to improve the public health and well-being through the use of natural and sustainable ingredients in consumer products," Zhang said. "Many natural food extracts are good for us, but sometimes when we think we are eating these natural ingredients, we might not realize there are artificial materials coming with them. For example, some carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and annatto, are natural colors and much healthier than artificial colors. However, some products containing these natural colors may also contain artificial ingredients, such as synthesized surfactant and/or solvent, to disperse or solubilize natural colors."

The practice of using artificial ingredients to formulate natural materials is not compatible with the goal of providing natural and healthier food products, according to Zhang.

"In contrast, we dissolve carotenoids in water without using artificial chemicals and in an economical way," she said. 

Phytoption received a $225,000 STTR Phase I grant in 2014 from the NSF for its research in new drug excipients. It received a $25,000 prize as the winner of the 2015 BioCrossroads New Venture Competition during the Indiana Life Sciences Summit. It was named runner-up among about 220 entries in the Global Food and Health Innovation Challenge in 2013 at the Global South Summit in Nashville, Tennessee, for its "Natural Food Color" initiative. 

About Phytoption LLC

Founded in 2011, Phytoption is located in the Purdue Research Park of West Lafayette, Indiana. The company strives to improve human health by offering innovative, natural or sustainable ingredients to the food, supplement, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Phytoption products can enhance the quality and performance of a broad spectrum of products, such as to improve their nutrition values, sensory qualities, shelf life, and functionalities. 

About Purdue Research Park

The Purdue Research Park is the largest university-affiliated business incubation complex in the country. The Purdue Research Park manages the Purdue Technology Centers in four sites in Indiana located in West Lafayette, Indianapolis, Merrillville and New Albany. The park network is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2014 Incubator Network of the Year by the National Business Incubation Association for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at 

Media contact: Cynthia Sequin, 765-588-3340,

Phytoption contact: Phytoption LLC,

Research Park News

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