Q&A: Helaina founder talks reproducing breast milk proteins for mass consumption

“It featured stories from people of all walks of life—new parents, athletes and cancer patients—going to great lengths to get the powerful nutritional benefits of breast milk proteins for themselves or their loved ones,” she said.

Katz, a food scientist by training, began to explore the possibility of replicating these highly coveted bioactive compounds for mass consumption and in 2019 founded Helaina as the first company to offer the immunity properties of breast milk for all stages of life. Since then, the startup has raised over $38 million on its mission to push the boundaries of nutrition by providing “functional compounds inspired by the body’s natural intelligence”.

Helaina will be featured as one of this year’s NutraIngredients-USA Start-up Stars​ at the upcoming Sports and Active Nutrition Summit (SANS)​ in San Diego, CA from Feb. 12 to 14.

NIU: How did Helaina get its start? What was your path to market?

LK: We have assembled a world-class team of experts in food science, nutrition and engineering, working together to bring novel ingredients to the world.

The team evaluated the scientific data on bioactive proteins in breast milk and produced by the human body for the most effective, research-backed options to bring to market. We homed in on the human version of Lactoferrin, one of the most widely studied ingredients of our time. It is a multifunctional molecule highly concentrated in colostrum and found throughout the body.

Ideation transitioned to the lab, where the team ran thousands of experiments to develop Helaina’s tech stack for making human proteins outside the body and successfully replicated Effera, Helaina’s Human Lactoferrin. After achieving lab-scale manufacturing, the team ran commercial manufacturing campaigns to ensure the process could be replicated with high quality. The manufactured product was tested for quality, safety and functionality.