Baby formula is not, traditionally, a food synonymous with innovation. But Laura Katz, CEO of Helaina, is hoping to change that. Katz started her company, in 2019 in NYC, hoping to recreate breast milk. The company, named after her great-grandmother, is hoping to bridge the gap between breast milk and infant formula by using fermentation to recreate breast milk glycoproteins.
The proteins Helaina is producing are a tool, they say, to boost immunity and improve health outcomes for formula-fed infants, potentially disrupting the $70 billion infant nutrition category. While traditional formula provides calories for growth, it still cannot provide the same nutritional properties as breast milk. Helaina’s new category of infant formula will bridge this gap.
The company was making progress when, in 2022, a global shortage in infant formula brought a mandate that all formula manufacturing facilities operating in the United States needed to be making products that can be sold. This halted R&D operations like Helaina’s.
But Helaina weathered that storm and is announcing, this week, a move into large-scale commercialization readiness for their first ingredient, lactoferrin. The company (which has raised more than $25 million in funding) is building a precision fermentation platform to manufacture all bioactive proteins.
Helaina is now producing the breast milk protein lactoferrin— known for improved nutrient absorption, cognitive support, and antimicrobial defense—at scale with other manufacturing partners. The company’s focus is on immune-nourishing ingredients that are planet-positive and not derived from animals, like bovine lactoferrin. Lactoferrin is the first of many bioactive proteins that Helaina will biomanufacture through its precision fermentation platform.
“Helaina is now producing lactoferrin at scale, but that’s just the beginning,” said Katz. “We’re working to change the landscape of functional foods one immune-boosting protein at a time. Our precision fermentation platform can make all bioactive proteins to support immune health, and is a gateway to a new and reliable source of high-value ingredients. We’re now primed to move from R&D toward commercialization.”
The company reached a recent large-scale manufacturing milestone of more than 75,000 servings, moving them closer to democratizing access to immune-nourishing proteins and helping to solve supply issues for infant formula in the United States.