Unilever, the maker of the Slim Fast meal-replacement formulas, on Nov. 14 announced it was dropping its plans to develop a functional drink product fortified with the weight-loss extract hoodia gordonii. The move dealt a blow to London-based Phytopharm, which granted an exclusive global license to its patented hoodia extract to Unilever in late 2004.
The consumer packaged goods company invested millions of dollars and several years in researching and developing a hoodia-based weight-loss drink but pulled the plug on the endeavor after results from a recent clinical study concluded that hoodia could not meet Unilever’s safety and efficacy standards.
Phytopharm’s stock price fell 30% on news of Unilever’s decision, which led to the resignations of Phytopharm’s CEO Daryl Rees and CFO Piers Morgan.
According to press reports, Unilever (whose sales of Slim Fast have fallen sharply since 2000) paid Phytopharm $40 million plus royalties on sales of products containing the hoodia extract for the global license.
Phytopharm acquired the rights to its hoodia patent in 1996 and has since been fighting companies selling unauthorized and adulterated hoodia products over the Internet. The British drugmaker worked with Pfizer to try to develop a purified form of hoodia as a high-margin, prescription-only pharmaceutical, but Pfizer pulled out of the project in 2003. Phytopharm inked the deal with Unilever in hopes that its hoodia could be used in the company’s Slim Fast products, and Unilever’s goal was to launch a hoodia-containing version of its Slim Fast brand in 2009. However, according to news reports, the plant—which originated in the Kalahari desert and is said to trigger satiety—was too bitter tasting, caused nausea and was metabolized too quickly in the body, thus reducing its efficacy.
Phytopharm’s hoodia patent expires in 2017.
If you are an NBJ Subscriber and would like to read more of NBJ’s coverage of the Hoodia market, click the following links:
Bogus Raw Material Tarnishes Hoodia’s Equity, But Committed Report Strong Sales
Industry Making Strides in Improving Tarnished Image of Weight-Loss Supplements
Weight Loss Category Dwindles in Size in Post-Ephedra Era