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An integrated production system of highly purified eicosapentaenoic acid from microalgae. improvement of photobioreactors and downstream processing


Objectives and content
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 20: 5 n3) is a relatively
rare polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). EPA has been
implicated as a remedy for a variety of diseases and
syndromes, the major ones being prevention and treatment
of various cancers, cardiovascular and inflammatory
diseases. At present, however, EPA is primarily used as
a health food derived from marine cold water fish oil.
While the quality of this source is adequate for the
current uses, future pharmaceutical testing and use will
require highly purified EPA (over 90%). Unfortunately,
fish oil contains many other PUFAs besides EPA. The
separation of EPA from such a mixture requires
preparative HPLC, a technique which is very expensive and
economically prohibitive on a large scale. Although the
cost of algal oil is currently much higher than that of
fish oil, in recent research (patented) we have shown
that separation of EPA from the microalga Phaeodactylum
tricornutum would be more economical than from fish oil.
The higher the initial EPA proportion and the lower the
content of other PUFAs, the need for HPLC is reduced and
perhaps even eliminated. In contrast to other PUFA there
is no convenient source of EPA from heterotrophic growth;
thus, EPA can only currently be produced from autotrophic
(photosynthetic) microalga which can be grown on a
continuous basis.
In this project, a novel integrated production system for
obtaining highly purified EPA from microalga will be
developed. This is the first time that all the
disciplines involved in the industrial exploitation of
microalga for pharmaceuticals are considered: from strain
selection to product purification techniques to
preformulation and preclinical trials. The scientific
and technical challenge is to diminish the cost of the
final high quality product down to a level that would
make it attractive for identified new markets. In order
to reach this objective:
Overproducing strains of two microalga(Phaeodactylum
and Monodus) and a cultivation method will be developed
for the most efficient growth.
New tubular photobioreactor technology will be used
that could be scaled up for industrial microalga
production and enable good EPA productivities on an
annual basis in the closed reactors which will be
established under the most favourable European outdoor
conditions of S. Spain.
The most suitable extraction and purification
techniques (three step, a new t o step process and
supercritical fluids technology, SFE) will be assessed
for biomass downstream processing.
The resulting highly purified EPA (>93%) will be used
in preformulation and preclinical trials by our
pharmaceutical partner.
The feasibility of future developments for clinical
trials will be derived from cost analysis of the
production and processing steps.
Particular attention in the project will be focused on
the fundamentals of lipid biosynthesis and genetic
The proposed novel organisms and the photobioreactors
with their efficient modelling tools, in combination with
new downstream processing, represents a significant step
forward from the current state of the art technology and
could be transferred from the scientific domain to the
industrial one.
The consortium comprises the research department of a
pharmaceutical company which has pioneered the
introduction of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) as a
therapeutic agent; it has four pharmaceutical licensed
lipid products and established the scientific credibility
of PUFAs as drugs, and another company pioneer in the
technology of extraction using SCF. The partners'
expertise covers the complete spectrum of activities:
production, analysis, control, purification, safety
testing, derivation, preclinical and clinical evaluation,
and marketing and experimentation and fine-tuning of
process technology based on the use of SCF with different
matrices, the university partners bring multi-disciplinary
and complementary skills on photosynthesis and biological
principles, on photobioreactors, on downstream
processing, on PUFA biochemistry and on genetic

Funding Scheme

CSC - Cost-sharing contracts


Universidad de Almeria
S/n,ctra. Sacramento
04120 Almeria - La Canada De San Urbano

Participants (6)

BEN-GURION University of the Negev Research and Development Authority

84105 Beer-shava
Exenia Group Srl
Via Leonino Da Gara 13
35020 Albignasego Pordenone
United Kingdom
Prince Consort Road
SW7 2AZ London
United Kingdom
Stamford Street 150
SE1 9NN London
SCOTIA Pharmaceuticals Limited Development and Technology Centre
United Kingdom
Kingstown Broadway
CA2 5DT Carlisle Cumbria
Università degli Studi di Firenze
Piazzale Delle Cascine 27
50144 Firenze