Idan Harpaz isn’t quite ready for the media. Micro encapsulation company Tagra Biotechnologies has been in such a busy period of development and growth in the last few years that CEO Harpaz hasn’t spared much time on thinking about how to present his company to journalists or media professionals. That’s all about to change. With an array of products for some of the world’s largest skincare and pharmaceutical multinationals about to hit the market, Tagra can’t stay under the radar for much longer.
Tagra has developed a micro encapsulation system that delivers active materials to the skin when they are needed. This is the brave new world of skincare, and also has applications for the dental, and pharmaceutical industries.
“Once people understand this technology the amount of new ideas they come up with is huge,” says Harpaz, who joined the company a year ago. “My challenge coming into this company was to focus on what brings business first without losing the long-term potential.”
So what are microcapsules? Basically they are minute little capsules that can contain a number of natural or chemical substances. In Tagra’s case this includes vitamins, evening primrose oil, tea tree oil, retinol, or hippophae oil (sea buckthorn). These tiny encapsulants can be added to any cream or gel, and burst open when they are rubbed in, delivering their contents straight to the skin.
Harpaz pours out a capsule mixture onto the table. It has the look and texture of a very soft powder. He rubs it between his fingers. “You can rub it all you like now but the capsules won’t break open. Once you put them into a cream, however, they become soft and flexible. Once you rub them into the skin they break and release the active material,” he explains.
The benefit of these capsules is that they enable manufacturers to use beneficial substances that might otherwise cause problems in a cream or gel. Hippophae oil, for example, has important anti-aging activities, but it is an unattractive red color and it smells unpleasant. When it is added to a cream, the color is not even and the odor is offputting. Put the oil in capsules, however, and they can be added to the cream without any problem. The material is only released when it reaches its target.
It’s the same with retinol, which is one of the best anti-aging substances about. “Retinol has been in and out of the market many times because of the problems stabilizing the creams,” Harpaz tells ISRAEL21c. “The cream would go yellow or even separate, and the shelf life was very short.”
Using Tagra’s capsule system the company not only ensures that the retinol can be blended into the cream successfully, but it increases the shelf life of the retinol by between three to six times.
It also enables vitamins to remain stable. Today’s creams may boast that they contain vitamin A, and vitamin E, but in actual fact these vitamins degrade quickly. Harpaz brings out some graphs that prove the point. In tests, after about 40 days there is less than 40% of vitamin A left in most commercial formulations. After about 170 days, there is virtually nothing left. The same is true of vitamin E. In commercial applications the vitamin has disappeared by about 160 days.
In comparison, Tagra’s microencapsulated vitamins remain active for much longer. Even after 350 days, vitamin A has only degraded by 15%, while after over a year, the vitamin E has only degraded by 10 percent.
“We keep the vitamins fresh until they are needed,” says Harpaz. “Using our technology vitamins can stay active for over a year with very little degradation. We stabilize the material and increase the efficacy of creams enormously.”
Tagra’s technology has sparked a great deal of interest from the industry. In 2004, the company worked with skin care giant Estee Lauder to create a day care cream, DayWear Plus, which includes microcapsules of color pigment. When you squeeze the $40 cream out of the tube it’s the usual pale color. When you rub it into your skin, however, the microcapsules burst open, adding a healthy blush to your skin. “You immediately look better,” says Harpaz. “Instead of having to put on make-up and cream, you can just put on cream. It has everything you need for the skin.”
This new skin care niche has proved extremely successful and is now one of the company’s top selling ranges. DayWear Plus was the first generation of this technology, and developed especially for Estee Lauder. Today the company is developing the next generation of pigments, offering virtually any shade of color manufacturers might want.
Tagra’s technology also solves many manufacturing problems. In the past pigments required separate production lines because of the contamination they created in the manufacturing process. Using capsules, there is no contamination. They can be added at the end of a normal production process.
Aside from Estee Lauder, most of Tagra’s current products have been for smaller skin care companies such as Israeli cosmetics company, Careline; Clay Park Labs in the US; or Spanish, Italian, Korean, Australian and French companies. In the next year or two, however, a whole host of new products designed specifically by its multinational clients will be introduced to the market.
Harpaz doesn’t want to name names. It’s too early in this competitive world to announce anything until the products are actually out on the shelves. “Today we are only working with multinationals,” he says. “Now our real work is starting.”
Tagra Biotech was founded by businessman Ron Folman (now chairman and the major shareholder in the company) and a group of Russian immigrant scientists in 1998.
The company spent the first three years of its life in the Misgav Venture Accelerator incubator. It was a long development process and the company only really began commercializing its products in 2004.
Today, Tagra employs 25, and is growing fast. Management officers are in Netanya, and its manufacturing facility and R&D is in the north of the country. At present, sales are doubling every year and Harpaz expects revenues to reach $10 million within three years.
Tagra’s strategy is to start working in the field of cosmetics and then move into its next markets – dental care and topical pharmaceuticals. “We started with cosmetics as a way to generate fast sales and prove our technology,” says Harpaz. “It is also a huge and lucrative market with a low barrier to entry.”
Both dental care and pharmaceuticals will be harder markets to enter. In the dental care industry Tagra is working on micro capsules of vitamins to introduce to toothpastes. In the past it has been very difficult to add vitamins because the toothpaste is an aggressive cleaning agent. Work on this has already begun.
Tagra is also working on new topical applications with the pharmaceutical industry whereby a drug is enclosed in the micro capsules and delivered to the skin when necessary. First applications of this will not be seen for some years, as it takes time to go through the regulatory process of clinical trials, but Harpaz says that R&D has already begun in collaborations with significant multinationals.
And beyond this? Scent encapsulated in cleaning fluids, released as you clean the floor… the possibilities as Harpaz points out, are endless.
“Our achievement is that we have proved it works and already sell 15 products off-the-shelf. These are just the start. Our real products are coming in soon,” says Harpaz.