Commission-backed project's sweet taste of success

October 31, 2003

Brussels, 30 Oct 2003

'A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down', or so we learned from Mary Poppins. But a new EU-backed network of micro-encapsulators has other ideas.

The European Commission has invested significant effort and time into improving European research collaboration and technology transfer through activities such as networking and supporting virtual centres of excellence. In many ways this investment is delivering on its promise. One such case is a newly created organisation called ncapsolutions.

Toting itself as one of the first Commission-backed "virtual institutes" devoted to micro-encapsulation, ncapsolutions' aim is to be a modern-day switchboard linking experts from across Europe in this highly specialised field. At present, it boasts 15 members in its consortium, who are available to help companies develop all manner of innovative products in this sector.

Micro-encapsulation is a process by which very tiny droplets or particles of liquid or solid material are coated with a continuous film of polymeric material. These so-called micro-capsules have a number of benefits, such as converting liquids to solids, separating reactive compounds, providing environmental protection, and improving material handling properties.

The material is effectively 'encapsulated' in a micron-sized capsule of protective polymers, such as gelatin, plastic and wax. Micro-encapsulation has applications across a broad range of industries, including pharmaceutical, agricultural, food industry, animal feeding, aquaculture, perfumes and paper manufacturing.

Making a bitter pill easier to swallow

If a manufacturer is developing a new oral drug and wants to develop a sweet coating which will not react with the compound inside, micro-encapsulation analysis should help streamline the development stages of this new product, and even assist in the implementation of the technology. "Over time, [our] company will develop a series of highly responsive services ranging from online technology consulting to dedicated training sessions," said Damien Lemaire of ncapsolutions. In December, it is holding its inaugural 'Industrial Technology Trade Fair on Micro-encapsulation' in Geneva (CH).

This 'virtual institute' owes its existence to a number of forces both in and outside Europe. In 1989, seven Canadian laboratories formed a network to communicate research, resulting in the Bio-encapsulation Research Group (BRG). Nearly 15 years later, in the framework of the EU's 'competitive and sustainable growth programme', the VI BEST project was launched to create the European virtual institute on bio- and micro-encapsulation sciences and technologies. Nine months later ncapsolutions was born.

The consortium also has ties to the COST initiative - an intergovernmental framework for European Co-operation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research - allowing nationally funded research to be coordinated at a European level. Since 1971, COST actions have covered basic and pre-competitive research helping Europe maintain its strong position in science and technology.

DG Research
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