Oceans Ltd. looking deep into potential applications for seaweed

Published on March 6, 2014
Terry French, minister responsible for the Research & Development Corp. (RDC), announced funding for business-led research and development initiatives at Oceans Ltd. in St. John’s Wednesday. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Oceans Ltd., a company which has established itself as a business providing a variety of service for offshore workers, from marine weather forecasting to creating 3-D profiles of icebergs, has moved into a new area of research which could enhance our medical well-being.

The company, which has operations in St. John’s and Halifax, N.S., has now extended into, as president Judith Bobbitt acknowledges, what many might see as an unlikely direction.

For about the last four years, Oceans has been tapping in-house scientists, including a group of biologists who monitor the health of fish around offshore platforms, to look at the potential medical benefits that may lie in seaweed.

“Being a business, we don’t want to fail on anything, so we didn’t go for just wound healing (agents), we decided we might as well test for cancer, any cancer properties, for acne, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, anti-aging. We had a whole list in the medical field, health properties we wanted to test for,” Bobbitt said.

She said Memorial University of Newfoundland marine biologist Bob Hooper helped the company whittle down about 200 seaweed varieties in the province to a more manageable number of prime candidates for closer examination.

“We’ve screened 60 species of seaweed from around Newfoundland and Labrador. So a lot of testing had to be carried out,” Bobbitt said of the research to date.

The screening requires intensive work collecting samples, creating extracts and completing evaluation work in the Oceans Ltd. laboratory.

The ongoing project will require patents as useful agents within the seaweed are clearly identified, tested and the active agents worked into commercial products.

“Some of the work we couldn’t do ourselves, and so it’s a very expensive project and a big undertaking,” Bobbitt said, noting the requirements to outsource some work to specialized labs and the task of working with human cancer cells.


Sources of support

To date, the project has been supported by the National Research Council, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Research and Development Corp. of Newfoundland and Labrador (RDC), but also through company research tax credits and proceeds from its various business arms.

On Wednesday, MHA Terry French, the minister responsible for the RDC, was inside the Oceans Ltd. offices in St. John’s, with a collection of business representatives.  

French announced a total of $1.9 million of investment by RDC into research and test projects of 12 businesses, including a small amount for Oceans Ltd. The money for all 12 companies has been leveraged for $4.6 million of investment in total.

“Our government and RDC recognize the importance of research and development. And I’m pleased this level of investment will help these businesses increase their capacity to improve processes, procedures, product quality, efficiency and competitiveness,” French said, addressing the gathering.

Specific to Oceans Ltd., $37,000 has been provided through RDC to assist the company in covering the cost of hiring a post-doctoral fellow, a chemist, to help it continue with its work with seaweed. The total cost to the company is $117,000, being covered through several sources of which the provincial funding is a part. Dr. Ahmed Zein has been hired in the position.

“I guess the message we want to get across is that we have small companies here actually doing research you wouldn’t expect was being done in the private sector,” Bobbitt said.

Other companies receiving funding in the round of RDC awards are: Seashore Consultants Ltd., Seamatica Aerospace Ltd., Beaufort Solutions, Kean Marine Inc., Camouflage Software Inc., Lester Farms Inc., NOCLAND Business Inc., Indigena Enterprises Inc., Semintha Nutraceuticals Ltd., Frost Heave Solutions Ltd. and Acoustic Zoom Inc.