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Lipid Chemistry

1937 • 2000

Lipid chemistry (or oleochemistry) is a pioneering discipline that continues to offer the business new opportunities for development. Since Gattefossé produced its first continuous phase aqueous emulsions, lipid chemistry has played a key role in shaping the organization’s core business (galenic formulation) and also directed it towards two particular market sectors: cosmetics and pharmacy.


When René-Maurice’s son-in-law Émile Mahler joined the business, he brought with him a wind of change. Émile Mahler had studied at the Paris Institute of Chemistry and learned about polycomponents in a talk given by a Polish chemist, Professor Przyleck, polycomponents being formulations comprised of proteins, fatty acids, lecithin and vitamins. Fired-up by the talk, Émile immediately began manufacturing the first Gattefossé-approved fatty acid esters and new emulsified excipient bases.

This marked the beginning of the company’s relationship with lipid chemistry. René-Maurice in Lyon and his nephew, Louis Schmuck, Commercial Director in Paris, would go on to persuade manufacturers to accept these brand-new ingredients. When Henri-Marcel Gattefossé had the ingredients tested by medics in Lyon, it was the start of another key activity for the business: dermatology.

Émile Mahler.

However, the first major step forward for Gattefossé in relation to lipid chemistry actually came a bit later and was related to interesterification.

The process of interesterification involved redistributing the fatty acids of plant oils and was first carried out in partnership with the SIO when the company was producing suppository base material at the start of the 1950s. With the support of Professor Naudet, Gattefossé then applied the process to the synthesis of fatty acid esters, replacing all or part of the glycerol with alcohol or hydrophilic polymers. The plant oil thus gained an “amphiphile” which could be used in more than just galenic formulation. It had biological uses and, they discovered, pharmacological ones, too. And that was how the Labrafil® range came to be.


Sixty years later and lipid chemistry was still central to Gattefossé’s business activities in the pharmaceutical sector. However, it now focused its efforts on orally administered excipients. Collaborating with academic laboratories, the R&D team carried out an increasing number of studies to draw attention to these excipients’ mechanisms of action in the body. And one member of the R&D team, Vincent Jannin, defended his thesis on the use of Gattefossé lipid excipients in medical coatings (the full title in English is: “Improvement of the functionality of lipid-coated particles”). His research resulted in a plethora of articles being published in scientific journals, lending Gattefossé indisputable weight in the field.

Furthermore, in 2005 the business began collaborating with the “Bioenergetics and Protein Engineering” laboratory at CNRS Marseille, the French National Center for Scientific Research run by Frédéric Carrière. After initial research into Labrasol®, the partners looked at what happens to Gelucire® 44/14 and its components when they are digested by the lipolytic enzymes in the stomach and pancreas.

It turned out that the products formulated by Gattefossé protect the active ingredients from gastric acidity, thus allowing them to pass through the intestinal walls without deteriorating.

Gelucire® 44/14.

In 2020, pharmaceutical clients appear to be increasingly interested in exploiting the properties of lipids that improve solubility and therapeutic efficacy. Consequently, the subject continues to be a key area of research for Gattefossé. Lipid chemistry has many other qualities still in store…

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Lipid Chemistry