Almost all natural products companies have a relatively small R&D budgets, especially for research. Ten or 15 years ago that was actually more problematic than now, when the prevailing mindset was that natural products were mainly developed to be safer alternatives to drugs. Some theoretical breakthroughs in nutrition/medical science need to be appreciated for the gifts they have handed us:
- A healthy, normal crop of intestinal flora is required to prevent diseases from cancer to colitis. Allergies and obesity are prevented/lessened by these biota. If we don’t eat a lot of raw and fermented foods, we will need to supplement.
- Chronic vitamin D deficiency plagues the elderly and those in Northern latitudes.
- Drugs are metabolized very differently even by family members. Medications are now tailored for particular genetic and ethnic groups, and moving toward customization for individuals.
- Epigenetics. A new scientific field proves what holistic practitioners always intuited: diet, environment, lifestyle, and emotional attachments (loving or abusive) change our physical and metal selves. DNA is changed (i.e. methylation) by these factors and changes are heritable.
No longer does natural products R&D need to feel like the poor, misdirected stepsister of modern molecular medicine. It’s no longer arguable that different people will require different levels of vitamins and trace elements for optimum health, or that eating almost entirely cooked, processed foods causes chronic ill health. As a corollary, your company does not need to compete with the research budget of pharmaceutical companies. A much leaner (but very competent) staff will do.
Here’s some advice for selecting and advising:
1.) Researchers must consult with marketing regularly. They need to know what sells and to whom. There’s a core demographic allowing you to make payroll, so your first priority is research that keeps them engaged. Too bad if it’s the same/old/same/old: your challenge is to make it fresh. Then, identify weak demographics/products and use your research skills to formulate more appealing alternatives.
2.) Always have at least one trained scientist/clinician/physician who can really read the research, and has actually published papers. A wealth of ideas, answers and technical procedures exist in scientific journals, but aren’t attainable by “abstract surfing.”
3.) Have the R&D goal of promoting health and preventing/deferring illness by providing optimized, individualized nutrition. If you focus research on looking for alternatives to drugs, there will never be enough clinical trials to satisfy the skeptics. I’m not suggesting you ignore existing clinical trials, or choose not to fund one if you can, just change your mindset.
For example, glucosamine/chondroitin is helpful for knee arthritis, not as an alternative to ibuprofen, but as a building block of cartilage that is not very abundant in modern diets. Your goal is to keep selling G/C to the seniors, while getting the 25-year old athletes to understand that they may never have to deal with knee pain if they practice “preventive nutrition” and start taking a half-dose of G/C daily.