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Ankeny-based Proliant finds niche in health supplement market

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It took Eric Weaver and his colleagues at Proliant Health Ingredients seven years to bring their new health-product ingredient, ImmunoLin, to the market. Armed with a substance designed to not only lower cholesterol but also boost the body’s immune system and help build muscle, they knew they had a winner.

The product release, however, couldn’t have come at a worse time — October 2001 —just one month following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“It slowed supplement consumption down quite a bit, and I think we’re just beginning to see a return to normal,” said Weaver, Proliant Health’s president and CEO. “Bustling” activity at a recent national health supplements trade show is the first evidence he’s seen that the market has rebounded, he said.

Later this month, Proliant anticipates another boost, as the findings of a clinical study that supports the company’s claim that its product lowers LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, by up to 7 percent, is scheduled to be published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a national scientific journal.

About 35 health and nutritional supplement manufacturers have incorporated ImmunoLin into their products over the past three years. Proliant and its parent company, Ankeny-based Lauridsen Group Inc., expect the business to serve as a growth engine for LGI, which is composed of six companies in various niches of the animal protein business.

“We’ve seen steady growth, even without the clinical study being published,” said Weaver, who anticipates the journal article will beef up sales considerably. Proliant recently released a second product, NutraGammax, which is a less-concentrated version of ImmunoLin designed for use in protein supplement products.

ImmunoLin, which Proliant sells in bulk form to supplement makers, is marketed in a variety of powdered drink mix and tablet products. About 5 grams daily, or about one tablespoon, of ImmunoLin is needed daily to obtain the benefits it provides.

“There’s really a benefit for anybody,” said Weaver, who is among dozens of LGI employees who use a supplement containing ImmunoLin, which the company provides as a perk to its workers. He and other employees who travel regularly overseas on business swear by the supplement as a way to avoid the usual travel-related illnesses.

“It will help you improve your overall state of health,” he said. “It will help an athlete lay down more in body muscle, and hopefully fight off illness (from overtraining). And as people age, their immune systems can certainly decline, so there’s certainly an application there.”

Proliant has three other clinical studies under way involving ImmunoLin. One will test the ingredient’s effectiveness in boosting immunity for people with HIV. Another will examine its use in reducing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, which affects an estimated 10 million adults. Another study is expected to substantiate the product’s effectiveness when used in sports nutrition supplements.

LGI’s first company, American Meat Protein Corp., was founded by Wally Lauridsen and his son, Nix Lauridsen, in 1981. APC and the companies that followed, which include Proliant Meat Ingredients, Proliant Biologicals and Boyer Valley Co., each deal in separate niches that use animal byproducts from slaughterhouses for human food products such as stocks and flavorings, as well as animal feed ingredients and health applications. The company’s most recent acquisition, BHJ, is a Danish food trading company that operates in both Asia and Eastern Europe.

LGI began with a plant in Lytton, but 20 years ago moved to Ames to be closer to Iowa State University’s research facilities. In 2003 LGI moved its headquarters to a building it constructed at the LGI Business Park, just north of the Ankeny Regional Airport. With the market slowdown resulting from the mad cow disease scare, the company was forced to consolidate its administrative functions entirely to Ankeny.

Now, “we’re growing again; we’re adding employees, primarily because of the export market opening up,” said Roger Jacobson, LGI’s president. “This building is really full to capacity, so if there is any additional growth from here, we’re going to have to find some additional facilities. But we always try to be careful with growth, because the (mad cow) issue is not over yet. Every day that goes by, however, makes us feel more comfortable that perhaps (the one diseased cow found in Canada) was an isolated case.”

Weaver said Proliant Health could easily add up to 30 more employees in the next three to five years as sales of ImmunoLin and NutraGammax ramp up.

During that same time, the company expects to rack up some innovations within the industry.

For people who are HIV-positive, for instance, “there’s really no supplement developed so far that helps with that,” Weaver said. “This would be the first product of its kind for people with HIV. You would think it would be intuitive to give people with an immune deficiency a supplement to help boost their efficiency, but that hasn’t been the case. So we’re notching out a lot of firsts.”

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