Soluble Beta-Glucan and Woulgan: A Brief Timeline

Biotec BetaGlucans’ work on beta-glucan activity has roots in discoveries made at the University of Tromsø, Norway, and Biotec Pharmacon’s early work developing a portfolio of beta-1,3/1,6-glucan products that have been sold worldwide in the animal health and consumer markets.

Despite its origins in the Arctic Circle, the company has since closely collaborated with leading research groups in Norway, Europe and the United States of America.

That’s because the University of Tromsø, still a young institution in the late 1970s, attracted entrepreneurial students and scientists, including Jan Raa and Jan Olafsen, two of the co-founders of Biotec.

They saw the biological waste created by the fishing industry, which dominates the region, and set out to research ways to make the most of that untapped bioresource.

Over several decades, their research evolved, resulting in the execution of projects that have revealed novel insights for the mode of action and potential uses of beta-glucans.[1–7]

Thanks to this strong research foundation, Biotec BetaGlucans has developed Woulgan Bioactive Beta-Glucan Gel, an active wound healing product containing soluble beta-glucan (SBG).

To help you better understand SBG, what it is and how it works, here’s a look into the background of SBG’s development.

Starting in the animal world

Since the late 1980s, the researchers who went on to found Biotec Pharmacon performed basic research on the mode of action of the beta-1,3/1,6-glucan.

The early work focused on the characterisation of beta-glucans from yeast combined with structure/function relationship studies, particularly in aquatic animals, and was spun off from research initiated at the University of Tromsø.

“At that time losses from diseases were well recognised, but was generally not seen as a problem, merely as a matter of fact. However the [founders] thought that improving the general health status of the fish might help, and started experiments with a combination of feed-ingredients, one of which was beta-glucans, a by-product from the yeast industry,” said Svein W.F. Lien, CEO of Biotec Pharmacon in an interview with The European.

“In one of these experiments, they observed that all of their fish had died – except in one cage, where most fish survived. The survivors had been fed beta-glucans from yeast.

This experiment was the starting point for the development of the Biotec Pharmacon business.”

This early work was followed by a number of studies in warm-blooded animals.

The company’s own basic research, combined with the intensified interest in the scientific community to understand innate immune mechanisms governed by beta-glucans, provided a solid foundation for the current understanding of beta glucans mode of action.

Experience over three decades has confirmed that Biotec Pharmacon’s specific yeast beta-1,3/1,6-glucans can enhance overall disease resistance and improves health and, furthermore, that Biotec’s pure beta-1,3/1,6-glucans are non-toxic modulators that can affect a number of immunity related disorders.

As a result, over the last two decades, beta-1,3/1,6-glucan has been introduced as a feed additive to improve health and performance of farmed shrimp, fish, pigs, chicken, laying hens and calves, and of horses and pets.[8–17]

Exploring the innate immune system

In recent years, awareness of and general research into the immune system-boosting potential of beta-glucans has increased within biomedical and clinical research communities.

Because Biotec had years of experience and efficacy documentation with its proprietary beta-1,3/1,6-glucan products used in animal husbandry and veterinary medicine, it began an ambitious development programme with its most promising drug candidate — soluble beta-1,3/1,6-glucan, or SBG.

“Beta-glucans are today widely used in aquaculture to improve resistance to disease and are also available as a dietary supplement for human consumption,” Mr Lien told The European.

Building upon the foundation in animal health and consumer products, Biotec invested resources into R&D to better understand just how this particular formulation’s modulation of immune mechanisms can be used to treat or prevent immune-related disorders and diseases.

Researchers found that soluble beta-glucan has immunomodulatory capacities and activates the white blood cells, in particular the macrophages — which are important for speeding up the wound-healing process.

In fact, macrophages are key players in all phases of wound healing, providing signal molecules important for healing and orchestrating the wound-healing process.

As a result, the company has developed Woulgan Bioactive Beta-Glucan Gel, an advanced wound healing product that provides an optimal moist wound-healing environment, re-hydrates necrotic tissue and aids in autolytic debridement.

In addition to macrophage activation, SBG has positive effects on angiogenesis, cell proliferation and wound contraction throughout the course of treatment, until complete closure of the wound is achieved.

The positive effects of soluble beta-glucan in treatment of diabetic foot ulcers have been studied and showed a statistically significant positive effect of SBG in complete wound healing at week 8 compared to control.[18]

Because these factors, in particular SBG’s ability to promote macrophage activity, Woulgan is indicated for use specifically in stalled wounds — which are some of the most difficult wounds to heal.

Staying true to Arctic roots

The company continues to maintain its base in Tromsø, 217 miles north of the Arctic circle.

It’s the largest northern city in Norway, and has a world-class biomedical education and research university, along with a variety of biotechnology and molecular science companies.

“In the unique and demanding environment of the arctic waters, fish and shellfish have evolved to thrive in the freezing waters, relying on cold-adapted enzymes to perform everyday functions in temperatures at which other organisms would perish,” Mr Lien told The European.

“The facilities and infrastructure for the biotechnology industry in Tromsø makes it favorable to be situated in this region. Biotechnology has been a priority in this region and has resulted in the establishment of a biotechnology cluster. Given the historical background and the close proximity to the Arctic, it seems natural to look north.”

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