Home Computer Science Technological Entrepreneurship: Technology-Driven vs Market-Driven Innovation
The name 'MacLab' derives from Stuart McFarlane, who pioneered mussel farming in New Zealand in the late 1960s. Alerted by the interest shown by the USA in green-lipped mussel (GLM) extracts for their cytotoxic properties, McFarlane found that although the cancer treatment was not successful, patients were reporting relief from arthritic pain as a welcome side-effect. This accorded with New Zealand folklore that coastal-dwelling Maoris who regularly consumed the mussel as part of their diet suffered far less from arthritis than their inland-dwelling relatives. In 1974, McFarlane launched a freeze-dried, concentrated mussel powder obtained from GLMs as an anti-arthritic product marketed as Seatone.
In the early 1970s, two Australian businessmen Jim and Bill Broadbent acquired a financial interest in McFarlane's farming operations. They became interested in mussel extracts because of their reported antiinflammatory properties and subsequently established a new company in Australia for distributing the extract and for registering the 'Seatone' trademark worldwide. By the early 1980s, the Broadbents had become major shareholders in Stuart McFarlane's company, McFarlane Laboratories, which was researching the reported health properties of Seatone (Sankaran and Mouly 2007). In 1982, the brothers purchased a mussel powder factory in New Zealand and established a research project at the Natural Products Chemistry Division of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Universit (RMIT) in Australia. The company initially sought scientific evidence that a naturally occurring antiinflammatory compound existed in the mussel. Such proof would supersede the hitherto inconclusive empirical evidence and help settle the medical controversy concerning the potency of mussel extracts. Despite the use of a leading technology of the time, namely high- performance liquid chromatography, the RMIT scientists were unable to isolate the active lipid fractions from GLM powder.
In 1983 Jim Broadbent met Professor Takuo Kosuge, a Professor of Pharmacology at the Shizuoka University in Japan, who specialised in natural products chemistry. Professor Kosuge had failed to isolate active fractions and had concluded that this failure was owing to the oxidation of the active components. This meant freeze-dried mussel powder extract was unstable and hence had a limited shelf life. Therefore stabilisation was required if the product was to retain potency (McLean 2002, pp. 18-19).
Some 20 years earlier Professor Kosuge had identified an ancient technique used by traditional Japanese fishermen to store fish in a special solution which preserved the fish for years. Subsequently, Jim Broadbent, on behalf of the MacLab group, and Yoshiki Kosuge patented the use of the specialised solution as a stabilisation process. The MacLab group was then able to produce a stabilised mussel extract product. Following ongoing research the RMIT scientists were able to use the GLM powder as the basis for isolating lipids known as Lyprinols, which were found to be much more potent than the GLM powder extracts.
It took further two years of intensive testing to develop the protocols for the supercritical fluid extraction process, which were then patented by the MacLab group. The group continued the original search for a 'marker' metabolite from among the various fractions and fatty acids that are latent in Lyprinols. Such a marker could pave the way for chemical synthesis and subsequent development of an antiinflammatory drug. The Broadbent brothers continued to invest in ongoing research into Lyprinols. Sales have grown in recent years and are estimated to be in excess of $10 million.
Some years after the commercialisation of Lyprinol, the Broadbent brothers concluded that Lyprinols did not contain a unique marker that would explain its antiinflammatory potency, concluding instead that the various fractions and fatty acids seem to act in a synergetic manner that was both efficacious and non-toxic. Furthermore, Lyprinols cannot be synthesised because the fractions are not completely pure.
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