Consumer goods titan Procter & Gamble is understood to have struck a deal with a small UK biotech company which could revolutionise household products.
Cambridge-based BioProgress, whose shares are traded on the US market Nasdaq, has come up with the world's first non-animal alternative to gelatin, and the multinationals are jostling for a piece of the action.
Since the mid-1930s gelatin has been the only material suitable for making edible capsules for oily liquids. But because it is produced from the ground-up offal of pigs and cattle, it has caused health concerns.
It is also banned by certain religions. In response to this, pharmaceutical companies have been struggling to find a workable alternative.
The market for gelatine capsules is huge. Primrose oil, cod liver oil and garlic oil are widely sold in the health-obsessed UK and US.
But the real potential of BioProgress's XGel lies in the fact that it completely dissolves in water. This means that products like sanitary towels and nappies can be coated with the protein-resistant film, allowing them to dissolve when flushed down the toilet.
For a company like Procter & Gamble, frequently attacked as environment-unfriendly, the benefits are clear. Products that currently have to be burned or piled into landfill can now be coated in XGel and classed as biodegradeable.
BioProgress will sell the licence to use the coating and control its supply.
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