A Beltsville company that is trying to develop a sugar substitute that can be easily used in baking took a step toward getting the product on the market yesterday by winning a key patent, but the company's chief executive said the product is still years from the market.
Biospherics Inc. said it had won a patent for calcium tagatate, a compound it uses in a previously patented process for making D-Tagatose, an artificial sugar derived from whey, a dairy byproduct.
The company's chief executive, Gilbert Levin, said the new patent helped intensify the company's talks with potential investors, which are major food companies that would add the sugar substitute to their products.
"Were we to get the financing, we're looking at three years" before the company could gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to market the food additive, Dr. Levin said.
Dr. Levin said the new patent was important because it further protectsthe way Biospherics makes D-Tagatose.
The company can't patent D-Tagatose itself because it exists in small quantities in nature.
"Even someone who can come up with another way to make D-Tagatose will very likely require calcium tagatate, so now we ,, have that compound protected," Dr. Levin said. Biospherics was able to patent the ingredient because it, unlike D-Tagatose, is not found in nature, he said.
Biospherics closed yesterday at $10.25 a share, up $1.75 in over-the-counter trading. Biospherics hopes that its sweetener will win acceptance by the market because it can be heated without losing its flavor.
It is also bulkier than other sugar substitutes such as NutraSweet and more closely matches the weight and size of sugar. "It replaces sugar one-for-one" in recipes, said Lee Zehner, Biospherics' vice president for science services.
Competing sweetners "all have taste problems, and they're all intense sweeteners," according to Mr. Zehner.