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By Len Monheit
Regardless of geographical region or target sector, companies operating in this business face a very convoluted value chain and a challenging drive to market. Nowhere has this been more evident to me than at a meeting last week where stakeholders from government, industry, associations and the science community gathered to talk about challenges and opportunities. Like several meetings of its type, the ultimate goal of the meeting was to chart a course to viable and ultimately successful business, but the discussion and process showed just how elusive that can be. While I don’t want to generalize or stereotype, for the purposes of this column, I’ll be a ‘bit’ more general than I would otherwise.
One of the fundamental disconnects characteristic of our sector is the one between science and marketing. Most noticeably, this manifests with consumers who want and need a simple message, yet expect the message to be supported by scientific evidence. When there is no forced continuity between the scientists and messengers, we often find that either claims cannot be substantiated, or that the science has been misappropriated into a totally different context.
Another fundamental disconnect we observe is that the research community exists and operates, in many cases, at a serious remove from commercial reality. Bridge-building exercises (and conferences) can help, but in many cases, researches pursue (and are funded) in areas of interest with limited commercial viability and application. Moreover, it can be challenging to explain in some cases, why applicability should be a criterion at all. Obviously government funding sources come into the equation here, frequently to establish the basis for platform research and presumably to create an environment and reality check to hopefully provide a bridge to the marketplace. This research : industry disconnect is quite harmful as it enables the squandering of precious research dollars, and is a waste of time in those instances where industry need science and substantiation quickly, but finds itself totally removed from the research environment and network and so cannot quickly access necessary resources, thus potentially compromising fast-developing projects.
Another disconnect making itself felt around the world is the one between risk-averse regulators and those in government charged with developing international trade. The evidence for this chasm is making itself more apparent on a daily basis, as countries wrestle with intentional trade issues such as input quality at the same time as they develop programs to invigorate national economies. Another example of this issue at play is in Canada, where archaic and ultra-conservative food regulations (Health Canada – Foods Directorate) and a languishing functional food sector is at odds with Federal government (other department’s) commitments to not only support, but to expand the sector both nationally and internationally.
Another related chasm facing industry as a whole is the distance between it and the bulk of the healthcare services community. Whether its allopathic physician education or pharmacists advising adjunct treatment regimes, or whether its corporate wellness programs encompassing NHP/supplement/lifestyle options, our fundamental disconnects prevent industry from realizing a significant amount of its potential.
As many of you know, I try to make it a practice to offer solutions where I’ve presented challenges. In this case, fundamentally, the solution is clear, the path to it a bit less so. Obviously, where there is a chasm or disconnect, a bridge must be built. Whether this bridge is department to department within government, mentors to facilitate the collaboration between industry and the research community, a call for a multi-disciplinary research team to include someone with industry background to assess economic and commercial applications of new research initiatives, or even the creation of an industry/science/government working group, some of these bridges must be built, and all appropriate parts of the industry value chain must be engaged. Look also to see some of these bridges take the form of databases and online resources, communities, discussions and forums.
The challenge is getting the right people engaged at the right time. The outcome might just be better and more applicable research, more connected policy and enforcement decisions, a higher attributable value to science and many other important deliverables.