Adapting sensors that were previously used in medical diagnostics, Allogen Biotech has created a unique device which can be used to check gluten levels during food production, writes Trish Dromey
Taking a hi-tech approach to gluten detection, Dublin company Allogen Biotech is aiming to take a slice of the multibillion-euro global gluten-free market.
Adapting sensors which have previously been used in medical diagnostics, Allogen has created a unique device which can be used by manufacturers to check, control and manage gluten levels during the production process.
Co-founder and CEO Ben Teeling says this device represents a major advancement in gluten detection since the current testing process involves samples being sent to laboratories for testing, which is both expensive and time consuming.
“The Allogen test takes approximately 20 minutes while it can take between three and 10 days for lab testing,” he says.
Currently at prototype stage, the company is gearing up to raise in the region of €800,000 in order to launch in UK and Irish markets in mid-2015.
In the long term, Mr Teeling sees vast scope for Allogen technology, both in the gluten-free market which has been growing steadily in recent years and also in the wider food market.
“Legislation has been enacted in recent years which requires allergens to be listed on food labels and a variety of food scandals have shown a need for product testing to ensure quality”.
Allogen was founded in 2011 by Mr Teeling and Derek Graydon — who both had experience in both medical and mechanical engineering.
“Our original idea was to develop a smartphone app which would tell people with allergies whether foods contained allergens”
Later they looked at the area of food testing and discovered that companies producing gluten-free products had to conduct the regular testing which is required by legislation by sending samples to labs.
“We spoke to manufacturers and identified a very big gap in the market for a rapid, point of manufacturing test”
They looked at biosensors being used in blood testing and, working with MiCRA in Tallaght — which produces these types of sensors — Mr Teeling and Mr Graydon discovered that they were perfect for use in food testing.
Setting up in early 2011, they used their own funding and started out with a bank balance of just €200.
The initial idea was to create a product to test for the presence of peanuts but this was shelved in favour of a gluten detecting device.
Market research showed that the gluten-free market offered tempting opportunities.
“The UK market in 2013 was worth £238m and it’s growing by 37%, while the market in the USA is worth $2.6bn in 2013 and is set to double in the next two years,’’ reveals Mr Teeling
The increase is being driven by lifestyle choice, as well as allergy incident. “It is estimated that one in 100 people has coeliac disease, one in 10 has gluten intolerance, while six in 10 have a perception that a gluten-free diet is healthy,”
With the aid of €50,000 in Competitive Start Funding from Enterprise Ireland, Allogen rented an office in the Synergy Centre and began working with MiCRA to develop specific gluten testing sensors.
In 2013 the company enrolled in Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start Up Programme and secured €200,000 in funding. By the end of the year the first prototype was ready for demonstration. The design is now being finalised and work has started on a complimentary product used to prepare food samples for testing.
“In eight months’ time we plan to start testing the device with manufacturers and we aim to launch on the market in 12 months,’’ says Mr Teeling
He says there has been a high level of interest in the company’s research and that he has been approached by a number of companies manufacturing gluten-free products including bakeries, as well as biscuit and cereal producers.
“Once we have got the product to a certain level we will begun fundraising and by September we plan to talk to investors.”
The money raised will be used to commercialise the device in readiness for a launch next year.
-Company: Allogen Biotech.
-Location: Tallaght, Co Dublin
-CEO: Ben Teeling
-Product: Portable device for gluten testing in manufacturing
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