Making skincare from hoki and nanotechnology

Fishing company Sanford has joined forces with nanotechnology company Revolution Fibres to produce a high-tech nanofibre facepack made from discarded hoki skins. The product, almost 10 years in the making, will go on sale tomorrow.

And the companies hope the same high-tech fibres could be used in the future to deliver not only skincare, but topical medicines for burns, skin lesions and other skin conditions.

The anti-wrinkle facepack is made by taking the structural protein collagen from the fish skins and using Revolution Fibres’ proprietary “sonic electrospinning” process to make a super-thin, extremely light nano-material. During the spinning process, various “bioactive” products like fruit extracts and the moisturising compound hyaluronic acid are bonded to the collagen fibre.

Then when the nanofibre is placed on wet skin it dissolves and releases the nutrients deep into the skin.

Revolution Fibres CEO Iain Hosie said third-party tests show the facepacks can reduce wrinkles by up to 31.5 percent.

The new nanofibre sheets, marketed as actiVLayr, will be launched at the China Beauty Fair in Shanghai this week and should be available in New Zealand in July.

But it’s the possibilities for the future that make the technology so exciting, Hosie said. He said there’s a demand for different ways to deliver drug products into the skin, and actiVLayr could be an alternative for creams and even injections.

“There are endless uses for actiVLayr and the one we’re most proud of is in the medical area, with the ability for drug compounds or medicines to be added to the actiVLayr formula. It will enable a controlled dose to be delivered to a patient with skin lesions, burns or acne.”

He said Revolution Fibres is in negotiation with multinational companies about moving to medicinal uses of the technology.

Kirsten Edgar has a background in nanotechnology and is Callaghan Innovation's national technology network manager. She said nanotechnology - working with really really small particles - is very hard, so what Revolution Fibres is doing is exciting. But particularly interesting is the way this new product works with the New Zealand brand story.

"Tagging into a sustainable, ethically-sourced material, not using petrol-based polymers, means they are able to use a New Zealand natural products story that already exists out there. This gives them more power overseas, particularly in China."

Revolution Fibres first started talking about the possibility of a collagen nanofibre made from hoki almost a decade ago, as part of a project with Plant & Food’s Seafood Research Centre in Nelson, Hosie said, and the company got serious about making a product in 2013.

Sanford’s general manager of innovation, Andrew Stanley said hoki is particularly good as the base material for these nanofibres because it’s a sustainably-caught fish, and because of the structure of the collagen.

“Their marine collagen is unique. It has a very low melt point, so when placed on the skin it can dissolve completely and be absorbed in a way that collagen from other animals cannot.”

Previously, the hoki waste skins were used for fish meal and pet food, said Sanford business development manager Adrian Grey.

“Being able to supply and support a high tech company that is going to earn increased export revenue for New Zealand is just fantastic.”

Revolution Fibres also manufactures nanofibres for a number of other uses. These include anti-dust mite pillow coverings, anti-pollution protective face masks, filters for pumps for HRV’s home ventilation systems, and reinforcing material for carbon fibre for fishing rods. The latter product is made from recycled fishing nets collected from South America.

Edgar said Revolution Fibres' products are already attracting interest at international trade fairs and "there are big companies looking for innovative solutions that are scouting them".

Hosie said the almost 10-year-old company employs 12 people, all materials engineers, and revenue is “in the $1 million bracket”. He hopes negotiations underway at the moment will boost this to “tens of millions of dollars” over the next three-to-five years.

He said the company could be profitable, but instead has chosen to continue to invest heavily in research and development.

About 75 percent of revenue comes from selling proprietary products, but increasingly Hosie said the company is working on “co-innovation” projects, where Revolution Fibres manufactures bespoke materials for outside companies.

Revolution Fibres completed its first external funding round last year, raising $1.5 million from the US, and it has just completed another round worth approximately $1million. Hosie, one of the founders, still holds around 20 percent of the company.

He said he hopes to keep the intellectual property in New Zealand, although manufacturing of some products is likely to move closer to their markets - China and the US potentially. However, he said actiVLayr manufacture will remain in New Zealand, because that’s where the raw hoki comes from.

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