Dr. Neil Schauer is Harmony’s Chief Science Officer and an expert in recombinant proteins with years of experience creating brand new kinds of pharmaceuticals and treatments. Beyond this, he is a loving father and grandfather with much to offer in terms of family care. We sat down with Dr. Neil to take a deeper look into both his personal and professional life. See the full interview below:
1. Can you tell us about your professional background and how your experience translates to your work with Harmony?
I have worked in the pharmaceutical industry making therapeutic proteins for over 30 years. My career started in the 1980s at Genetics Institute (GI), a biotech company founded by leading experts in recombinant DNA technology. I led the Microbial Fermentation and Recovery group, which utilized expression technology that is very similar to what we use at Harmony today to create some of our breast milk components. When we first pioneered the technology at GI, we were able to make powerful therapeutic proteins to serve as medicine. That tech is still a mainstay in the pharmaceutical industry. Back then, we wanted to use this recombinant technology to make food proteins, but it was not yet developed enough to produce the quantities of proteins necessary. However, over 30 years later, this technology has matured, and we have learned how to increase production levels to a point where we can create proteins to use in foods, and even infant formula.
It is extremely gratifying that the technology I have worked with for my whole career can now be used to produce recombinant proteins that are identical to the key nutrients found in human mother’s milk. These recombinant proteins form the basis of Harmony’s infant formula, replacing the industry standard of relying on cow’s milk as a substitute for the nutrition they provide.
2. I hear you are a new grandfather and that you have a story about buying formula for your new grandson. Can you tell me about that?
Yes, my daughter recently had a baby boy, and I cannot be prouder than to be a grandfather! Like many moms, in the early days, my daughter struggled to produce enough milk. On top of that, she was concerned about returning to work and was worried about not being able to breastfeed. When I visited, I went out to buy some cans of the formula her baby most easily digested based on the samples provided by the hospital.
When I got back, together we looked through the ingredient list and were appalled by all of the artificial ingredients, especially the high concentration of fructose corn syrup. In the end, she was not entirely comfortable giving it to the baby and would have preferred something more natural and closer to breast milk. Her experience fits perfectly with one of the issues Harmony is trying to solve. We are trying to give parents a nutritional alternative for their babies that is much more natural for infants to consume and much closer to Mom’s natural breast milk. A nutritional alternative that they feel comfortable giving to their babies.
3. For you, what has been the hardest part of being a parent and what has been the best part?
For me, one of the hardest experiences came when my youngest daughter was three months old. Our whole family came down with a truly awful influenza. My youngest was given a strong antibiotic, which wiped out her fragile microbiome. Back then the importance of a healthy microbiome was not understood. To put it simply, a healthy microbiome means that “good bacteria” are thriving in the digestive system and keep out the “bad bacteria.” This is especially important in infants, whose microbiomes are just beginning to develop.
Due to the antibiotic, her “good bacteria” was gone and the “bad bacteria” somehow thrived. This gave her digestive issues which she still suffers from today, to some extent. In modern medicine, we know that the human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) in breast milk are incredibly important to feed the “good bacteria” and help them thrive. Had we known this back then, we likely would have been able to better treat her and prevent some of the digestive issues she has had almost her whole life. The importance of microbiome health, especially in infants, is one of the biggest reasons we have made sure to include HMOs in Harmony’s formula.
On a lighter note, one of the best parts of parenting has been watching my children mature into wonderful adults who are very passionate about the work they do. I am so proud of the people they have turned into. It was also challenging to watch them grow up. When each one was first born, they were vulnerable, helpless infants. I loved nurturing and caring for them. As they grew, I had to continually remind myself that my nurturing had to change to meet their needs with each new and passing phase of development. That continues to this day.
4. What is your take on the current state of baby formula found in the market?
Unfortunately, many of the infant formula suppliers are stuck in the past and are still dependent upon cow’s milk to form the nutritional basis of their infant formulas. Physiologically, cow digestion operates very differently from human digestion. Cow’s milk is made for the digestive tract that is unique to calves, whereas human breast milk is made for infants. Infants cannot get the same nutrition from cow’s milk and about 20% of infants who consume cow’s milk-based formula form allergies to the cow proteins in their formula. As such, the formula industry has tried to adjust by providing other options, like soy-based, hydrolyzed protein, and amino acid formulas. However, each of these types of formula present their own significant side effects.
Harmony, however, contains the very same proteins and other nutritional components that are naturally present in human breast milk. This means our formula is naturally hypoallergenic, while providing nutrition closer to that of breast milk. By utilizing these breast milk components to form the nutritional basis of our formula, rather than relying on cow’s milk, we will be able to bring the changes that the infant formula industry needs.
5. Once Harmony makes it to market, what are your expectations of the impact Harmony will have on the market and on families?
Harmony’s first focus is on babies who have cow’s milk allergies. The formula options that those babies currently have, such as cow’s milk hydrolyzed and amino acid formulas, are expensive and come with so many awful side effects. At the moment, there are no better options available for these babies. It is clear that these babies are in desperate need of something better, so they are the first babies we are trying to help with our hypoallergenic formula. Harmony’s infant formula is free of the side effects that the current options are plagued with.
However, Harmony is not just for allergic babies. Since it provides many of the same benefits as breast milk and is much more nutritious and natural for all babies, my hope is that parents will be able to turn to Harmony with confidence. It is clear that parents have a lot of hesitation and concern about the use of infant formulas. That is because the current formulas don’t meet the needs and expectations of modern parents. Harmony is here to meet those needs and expectations and provide peace of mind.
6. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?
During the 35 years I spent at my pharmaceutical job, the thing that brought me into work at 5am every day was the idea that I can truly help people. What drove me was knowing that I worked on projects that truly benefited people who needed treatments that didn’t exist at the time. Now, Harmony has this same effect on me, inspiring me every day to get to work on nutrition that will help babies who really need the help. I want to give them a much better nutritional start to their lives.
To learn more about Dr. Neil and Harmony’s other team members, visit our Meet Our Family page.