LabCentral Ignite Golden Ticket Spotlight: Harmony – A New Take on Baby Formula

June 8, 2022 | By Sara Murji

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The Ignite Golden Ticket program awards companies working on high-impact science focused on solving problems for human health with a founder that identifies as underrepresented in the biotech industry. This win covers the cost of one bench and one scientist for one year and includes exclusive access to our network and resources as a LabCentral Ignite Fellow.

Continuing our blog series highlighting the 2021 Ignite Golden Ticket winners, we chatted with Del Afonso, Founder and CEO of Harmony, to find out more about the company’s mission and the impact that the Ignite Golden Ticket program will have on its growth and development.

Tell us a little about your background and what Harmony does?

I’ve been working in the baby nutrition and formula industry for over 20 years, starting my career as technical researcher in Brazil, with a focus on baby nutrition and ingredients.

Harmony is not my first business in the baby nutrition space. From my first company, I gained solid experience running trials, dealing with regulatory matters and working with families who are struggling to safely feed their baby. It was clear that there was a tremendous need for a safer, hypoallergenic formula on the market. I also recognized this need on a personal level, as my second child has an allergy to cow’s milk.

From 2017-2018, I was in a post-graduate program at MIT and working with a company that was a resident of LabCentral. I had a discussion with the CEO about the possibility of using biotechnology to replace cow’s milk with human breast milk components in baby formula. She introduced me to our current Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Neil Schauer. That little conversation at LabCentral a few years ago turned into our business, Harmony.

Sometimes, we don’t think about it, but a can of baby formula is just cow’s milk with vitamins and minerals. Cow’s milk is naturally designed for calves not babies, and the composition is completely different from breast milk. This can be quite problematic. One out of every five babies has an allergic reaction to cow’s milk formulas. That’s a massive number – almost 24 million formula-allergic babies per year.

Our mission at Harmony is to produce baby formula naturally designed for humans. To put it simply, we produce infant formulas, and instead of using cow’s milk, we produce and use the components of human breast milk, so it is natural, easily digestible, and entirely hypoallergenic.

What attracted you to the Ignite Golden Ticket program?

I believe LabCentral is the best place in Cambridge for biotech development, so being a part of it has been a long-time dream. When the Ignite Golden Ticket program came out, it was a really strong fit for us in terms of its mission to support founders from underrepresented communities. I think being Latin, born and raised in Brazil and doing biotech in the Cambridge area is quite unique. Our team went through the criteria together, and it seemed like the perfect timing for us to cross paths with this opportunity.

Have you seen immediate recognition/benefit from winning the Ignite Golden Ticket?

LabCentral has strong credibility within the life sciences field. Winning the Golden Ticket put the spotlight on Harmony. But the social media and website recognition is just the beginning of how this opportunity with LabCentral will benefit our company. One of the biggest benefits is having access to the state-of-the-art lab facilities. Secondly, we can leverage LabCentral’s incredible network – an entire Cambridge-Boston ecosystem of individuals and firms who are interested in supporting us.

What aspect of the program are you most looking forward to now that you have won?

We are really trying to dive into all the resources LabCentral has to offer. For Harmony, this is the first time we’ll have our own lab. Since 2018, we’ve been using third-party labs to do our science and research. Now that we have our own lab, we can accelerate our science and create more intellectual property. Overall, we’ll have more opportunities – all because we can do it internally.

When do you expect your science to be available on the market, and what’s next for Harmony?

The infant formula and baby nutrition industry takes a long time to mature. From lab to market, it is never less than two years. You don’t just try something new on babies, you need to make sure it is top quality and 100% safe. Harmony has been working with top scientists and regulatory agencies from the very beginning to ensure the safety and quality of our product and we are well on our way toward reaching the market.

But, being a dad of two with a third on the way, and having an allergic baby, it’s not just about science for us. It’s about people needing something better. Hypoallergenic formulas with cow’s milk products on the market today are far from ideal – they’re expensive, have a bitter taste, can cause vomiting and diarrhea… the list goes on. With Harmony’s technology, we can address these issues, and produce something safe and healthy for those who need better options. We’re talking about real families and real babies that are struggling. At the end of the day, that’s the important piece of what we are doing.