By Len Monheit
Ask any leader in this industry and somewhere in the dialogue, you’ll hear them reiterate a commitment to science as the key to mid-term and long term viability and value. Whether representing an ingredient company or finished product manufacturer, the obvious need for science and substantiation is paramount, sometimes not so much for differentiation, as for legitimatizing claims to support the efficacy of the natural health product/ dietary supplement. Of course though, differentiation does frequently translate to market advantage and having a research group engaged that can not only substantiate efficacy but also provide analytical support to prove the uniqueness of your product and its properties translates to a really solid value proposition.
We see this on both the ingredient and finished product side of the value chain. Companies, despite the challenges of securing intellectual property protection and the risk of liberal acquisition of their science by the unscrupulous, do attempt to build a scientific platform, and we see them engaged at the numerous scientific conferences around the continent, from FASEB to Scripps, to pretty much any venue where they can either present or gather scientific credentials.
For the scientific community though, industry’s contribution and interest is considered quite differently. In many cases, industry is the multi-step removed funding source, whose ‘name shall not be uttered’ except in qualified and hushed tones. For pure objective research, industry is frequently seen as a ‘necessary evil’, and the gap between commercial and scientific interests frequently creates awkward relationships. Of course, the ultimate scientific platform for a company engaged in supporting research is to have its product studied in a ‘gold standard’ environment, and then for a peer-reviewed publication to at least hint at the uniqueness of the formula or product, if not actually mention it or the company by name. This is not the only place where research and corporate interests fail to exactly align; intellectual property issues can be divisive and compromise the best of intentions (and research programs).
Yet companies seek out and value scientific expertise. Affiliations and support of research efforts are part of the value-add platform that keep companies ahead of competitors. Providing material to NIH sponsored clinical trials is a huge asset (when the science works and the materials are properly characterized), and being able to leverage a poster presentation or journal study as third party literature provides an edge, or at least an excuse for communication.
In our current industry, scientific assets and relationships (clinical, analytical, microbiological) must be cultivated. This current week’s news has two releases that specifically address this issue and that bear noting. In the first, the Global Probiotics Council (a committee established by Groupe Danone and Yakult Honsha co. Ltd. have announced the Young Investigator Grant for probiotics research program, “designed to stimulate innovative research and to support young investigators and attract new researchers in the United States into the field of probiotics and gut microbiota.” (http://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsATemp.aspx?articleid=20465&zoneid=41)
In the second, Canada’s Natural Health Product Research Society presents its 5th annual research conference which provides, according to conference Co-Chair Dr. Vlad Vuksan, “a unique opportunity for industry to see, firsthand, evidence-based new concepts and the proposition underlying them that will prove paramount for the innovation of new product development and integration of natural health products into a multidisciplinary healthcare and health promotion model." ( http://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsATemp.aspx?articleid=20523&zoneid=41)
In both cases, a bridge between industry and the scientific community is being prepared. Smart companies take note.