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Brudnak: MAK Wood Seeks Gold in Carrots

Carrots have enjoyed a reputation for being good for your eyesight. But MAK Wood in Grafton hopes to find gold in carrots.

The company is licensing technology from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation that could help food processors fight listeria – a food-borne bacteria that causes more than 400 deaths a year in the U.S.

The WARF licensing deal is the first for the “What's IN it for Wisconsin Businesses” campaign – an effort to use the University of Wisconsin to spur the state’s economy.

The company hopes to commercialize research by UW-Madison professor Eric Johnson that involves a carrot extract, falcarindiol, that can inhibit bacterial growth in foods.

WisBusiness.com editor Brian Leaf spoke with MAK Wood Chairman Joe Brudnak about what the deal means to the 20-year-old company that employs 10 people.

Leaf: So, you’re known for products for food processors?

We’re known for ingredients for meat processing, food processing, pharmaceuticals and nutritional supplements. Those are our major categories.

Leaf: You got a hold of this patent through the What's IN it for Wisconsin Businesses campaign?

In part. The campaign prompted me to renew contacts with the Food Research Institute at the UW, and Eric Johnson. Eric and I have worked together on applications of anti-microbials in the past and have known each other a number of years. When the initiative came out, I thought I should renew that acquaintance.

Leaf: You’ve licensed other products through WARF?

We have commercialized a product that was evaluated at the oncology department at the university. We missed the patent on that one and we missed an earlier patent on conjugated lineolic acid.

Leaf: When you say you missed it, what does that mean?

It was licensed by someone else before we could get involved.

Leaf: Let’s talk about this substance you’re licensing now. It’s found in carrots?

Carrots will not support the growth of listeria, even when they’re in the ground. They have a naturally occurring anti-listeria compound. Eric Johnson is an expert on that particular organism.

Leaf: You’re looking for ways to use this product to kill listeria in processed foods?

Specifically, in processed meat products. We currently supply a product called Lactate and have done so for almost 20 years. Lactates are bacteria static. They slow the growth of bacteria and extend the shelf life. The carrot extract actually kills the bacteria. So this would be complimentary to what we’re already doing.

We’re involved in extracts, essential oils and oleoresins of a large variety of products such as rosemary, garlic. So this is something that is very familiar to us.

Leaf: How long do you think it will take to develop a commercial product out of this? Do you have a timetable?

I have to submit a development plan to WARF. We’re hopeful that will be able to introduce the product by the end of 2004. But we’ve already been in contact with potential users with a very positive response. There is a need and we’re trying to fill that need.

Leaf: Is your licensing agreement perpetual?

As long as we keep performing. All patents have a finite life, of course.

Leaf: Are you looking at other deals with WARF?

Yes. We’re meeting to identify other complimentary technologies. MAK Wood is a technology-driven company. We deal only with technically esoteric products. This falls right into that category.

Leaf: Do you do your manufacturing in Grafton?

No. We have joint ventures. As an example, Givaudan is the world’s largest flavor company and we have a contract with them. They are a Swiss company, and they have operations worldwide. We have had a contract with them since 1993. We’re well entrenched with that organization.

Leaf: So, you’re mostly a research company?

We look for technically esoteric products and opportunities. We develop formulas for weight loss, based on science. We publish extensively in peer-reviewed publications. You can see some of the articles if you’re interested in going to the website http://www.home.earthlink.net/~makwood Much of what we do is based on the biological sciences so it fits well with the university and WARF.

Leaf: These days, as government and everybody else looks to reinvent the economy, they’re looking toward this kind of company – technology and biotech.

Quite frankly, the U.S. is a leader in this type of science.

Leaf: Will this result in some new jobs for your company?

If it develops the way we think, absolutely. What we’re addressing is a huge market for anti-listeria products. Lactates are like a 150-200 million pounds a year market. This would be either complimentary or replace lactates.

Leaf: Is Mark Brudnak your brother?

He is my son. He is a Ph.D molecular biologist. He is the author of several patent applications and also the technical publications on our website.

Leaf: Have you thought about manufacturing any of this in Wisconsin?

There is a specific variety of carrot that needs to be used. We’re identifying that location as California. So the job opportunities would be commercial, not manufacturing.

Leaf: The carrots are a special strain?

Yes, a special variety.

Leaf: Could they be grown indoors?

I can’t answer that because we’re in the process of identifying the level of active component in the carrot extracts. So we really don’t know what the volumes will be. We need to extrapolate to find out how much carrot extract is needed and then interpolate how many pounds of carrots that will take. We’re still doing the grunt work.

The WisBusiness Interview is Copyright © 2004 WisBusiness Publishing.


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