Talking Shop with Toshihiko Hirao, BioKyowa CEO

Monday, December 6, 2010

BioKyowa CEO Toshihiko Hirao, a native of Japan, is guiding his company's Nash Road plant in an effort to keep up with growing demands for products made here in markets abroad.

The company opened in 1982, producing chicken food additives. In the past 10 years, however, the company has converted most of its operations to producing human-grade amino acids. Two-thirds of what it produces in Cape Girardeau is sent to Asia and incorporated into health supplements growing in popularity there. The company's production has doubled over the past 10 years, and it's now one of few local companies adding jobs as its overseas demands continues to expand.

Q: How are amino acids produced at BioKyowa?

Toshihiko Hirao is president of BioKyowa, Inc. which produces amino acids at its Cape Girardeau plant on Nash Road. (Fred Lynch)

A: Our main raw material is corn syrup. We get railcars full of it. It's heated and fermented with other ingredients and then the amino acids are extracted. It's an automated process, but we still need people to put raw material in and take finished products out. We produce thousands of metric tons of amino acids per year. These including glutamine, which helps build muscle, and arginine, which is used to treat erectile dysfunction.

Q: Where are the amino acids you produce shipped to when they leave your plant?

A: About a third of what we produce stays in the United States, where we have 50 percent of the market share. Two-thirds is sent to for repurification in Japan and China. A small percent is sold in European markets. We are one of few American manufacturers that exports our products overseas. It is cheaper to produce amino acids in the United States because of lower costs for raw materials and electricity, compared to similar costs in Asia. The currency exchange rate is more favorable as well.

Q: What types of products are the amino acids you make at BioKyowa used in?

A: Everything that leaves here is in the form of a white powder and sold to companies that refine it for various uses. Amino acids are used in both nutritional and pharmaceutical applications. Amino acids are used in hospital IVs. The body needs to take in essential amino acids to provide protein and nutrition. Our products are used in tablets, milkshake powders, and energy drinks.

Q: What makes these amino acid supplements so popular?

A: In the American market, medical expenses are the highest in the world. To decrease medical costs, American people are using more health supplements. Amino acids, since they are naturally occurring in the body, are not a fad. They will be here forever. In the Asian market, there has been a lot of growth as the middle class develops. In Asia, amino acids are added to flavored waters such as Amino Supli, which contains 1,000 milligrams of amino acids in one 500 milliliter bottle. Amino acids are said promote general health. One benefit may be to improve liver function after consuming alcoholic beverages and in Asia, amino acids are even added to some alcoholic beverages in an effort to prevent hangover effects.

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