How Harmony Baby Nutrition is creating a new baby formula using human breast milk proteins
Globally, only around 38% of babies are exclusively breastfed, with infant formula being a widely used substitute. Most infant formula is made with cow’s milk but roughly one in six babies experience allergic reactions to cow’s milk formulas. Harmony Baby Nutrition aims to change that by providing an allergen-free, breast milk based formula to help serve the millions of babies with food allergies.
The path to Harmony
For over a hundred years, infant formulas have typically been based on cow’s milk with soybean formulas being the less common alternative. Though the cow’s milk formula has been adapted and altered over the years, its composition still differs from that of human breast milk. According to Wendel Afonso, the Founder and CEO of Harmony, “in cow's milk, you get three major allergenic proteins that you do not find in breast milk,” triggering a reaction in millions of babies every year.
Afonso himself is no stranger to the troubles of traditional infant formula. After moving to Boston, Massachusetts, Afonso’s wife struggled to breastfeed their second child. Contending with the winter cold, the distance from their family and postpartum depression, she was unable to produce enough milk for their child. The Afonsos turned to infant formula only to discover that their child was allergic to cow’s milk and would need costly hypoallergenic formulas. Afonso knows the struggle from personal experience, “Facing this roller coaster of emotions on a daily basis with a baby at home. Man, that’s really tough.”
But Afonso also has a professional interest in infant formula, having spent years working as a food science researcher with a specific focus on infant nutrition. While completing an internship for a Biotech company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Afonso reached out to his CEO to suggest using pharmaceutical manufacturing technology to replace the cow’s milk in infant formula, with human proteins. She put Afonso in touch with Dr. Neil Schauer, who has since become CSO and Senior Adviser to Harmony Baby Nutrition. With funding and support secured from the Brinc and Artesian, Afonso and Harmony are set to shake up the infant formula market with a new alternative.
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A big market for little ones
Infant nutrition is a complex industry with heavy regulatory burdens and a need for clinical trials. Babies are unsurprisingly, very serious business. Afonso estimates that there are only a handful of companies attempting to create a human breast milk based formula, largely because of the regulatory challenges. And incumbent corporations in the baby nutrition space have so far been hesitant to disrupt the market, likely concerned by the risk to their brand.
There is, however, money to be made by offering a more natural, allergen-free infant formula. Parents are becoming increasingly educated around baby nutrition, and they have a high willingness to spend in return for quality. Companies in the baby nutrition space also tend to enjoy strong brand stickiness, with consumers proving less willing to shop around once they find a solution that works for them.
A future in Harmony
Harmony’s current focus is on using recombinant protein technology to change the early life nutrition market. After their latest raise, Harmony has been able to produce bioidentical breast milk proteins on a pilot scale. According to Afonso, the three major milestones that lie ahead are “improving the unit economics, getting the regulatory approval and running clinical trials.” But Afonso himself admits that the main challenge is not technological but regulatory, and he expects that “we're going to have at least two years of regulatory (approval processes) and then we can have the first babies consuming Harmony.”
To learn more about Harmony Baby Nutrition and their allergen-free, breast milk based formula, listen to Tim and Ali’s full chat with Founder and CEO Wendel (Del) Afonso on our Artehouse Innovation series at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1821254/9644237
If you want to find out more about Harmony, check out their website https://www.harmonybabynutrition.com/ where you can sign up for early access and updates from the team.