As food companies across the globe work on meeting a growing demand for innovative new functional foods, Cork-based food clinical trials company Atlantia works on providing companies with evidence which allows them to prove that their products have the health benefits they say they do.
Although unable to name clients for confidentiality reasons, Atlantia is, according to CEO and co-founder Andrea Doolan, at the forefront of commercial food clinical research internationally and has already conducted clinical trials for more than half of the top 10 global food companies.
“Some 50% of our business is in the US, 40% is in Europe. Asia, which is a new market for us, accounts for 10%. Our turnover has been growing at 25% a year since 2013 and reached €2.3m last year,’’ she said.
Customers include companies who are required by regulation to provide clinical evidence to regulatory authorities to back up health claims made on product labels.
Atlantia also conducts clinical trials for companies who want the data for marketing purposes — to use on their website and in promotional material.
Estimating that the functional food market is now worth €170bn, Ms Doolan sees significant scope for future growth and says Atlantia is now on track to grow turnover by a further 25% this year..
Competing in a market where the major share of clinical trials across the globe are being conducted by universities. Ms Doolan believes that as an independent, commercially-focused organisation, and one of a small number of food clinical trial companies operating to Good Clinical Practice (GCP) international standards, Atlantia is well positioned to grow sales globally.
Atlantia is in fact a spin out company which grew out of APC Microbiome Institute, a research group based at UCC. Ms Doolan and a group of three researchers involved in conducting clinical trials at APC decided in 2011 that it would be more efficient to set up a separate company for this purpose.
Atlantia started as an on campus company involving Ms Doolan and sales director Barry Skillington — using the services of a team of APC researchers, including company co-founders, Professors Fergus Shanahan and Ted Dinan.
“We have been self funded from the start,” said Ms Doolan, explaining that the company built up a client base by attending functional food trade shows around the globe, as well as publishing technical papers.
In 2015 when the staff size had reached eight, Atlantia relocated to larger premises on the Skehard Road in Blackrock where it now has 25 employees. While the company carries out trials across a diverse range of health areas, Ms Doolan says the company’s particular strength is in conducting dietary intervention studies in digestive health and that a high number of the clinical trials conducted by Atlantia involve prebiotics, probiotics and botanical extracts.
She says that the company’s ability to deliver results is boosted by its partnerships with APC Microbiome Institute at UCC, Teagasc research centre in Moorepark, and also by having a database of 12,000 volunteers, who are paid for their participation in the research studies.
“We are now regarded as world leaders in conducting clinical trials on probiotics, prebiotics and digestive health and between 60% to 70% of our customers are in this space,” said Ms Doolan.
Listing the benefits to customers she says clinical trials “provide clinical evidence of tangible benefits to consumers, enable competitive differentiation, accelerate time to market, provide critical support for product innovation and reduce cost of abandoned R&D projects through early identification”.
Having for the first time taken on customers in Japan and China as well as New Zealand in recent months, Atlantia is now making plans for expansion.
Planning to move in October to a 6,000 sq ft facility in Blackpool, Cork which has been customised to its needs, Atlantia intends to recruit an additional five staff by the end of the year.
Setting out ambitious plans for future growth, Ms Doolan says the goal now is “to make Atlantia a true multi-national clinical service provider across the globe”.