Genomics and biotechnology are current buzz words, and natural product industry innovators have the opportunity to create new products using these technologies.
Christine Houghton, an Australia based nutritionist and nutritional medicine clinician, started Cell Logic after a successful professional career that spanned three decades. Cell Logic is a nutrigenomics product manufacturer. The company is based in Sydney.
Houghton developed nutritional products from broccoli and other fruits and vegetables. These are processed to extract active molecules in quantities that are large enough to have a significant impact on the human body. The quantities of active molecules in raw fruits and vegetables are rarely large enough to be of any immediate therapeutic value to the body.
The products that she developed are said to impact the biomarkers present in the human cells. The product sends a trigger to the genes to either up regulate or down regulate a positive or negative action as the case maybe. Based on this principle of nutrigenomics, Cell Logic has developed all her nutritional products.
She aggregated scientific evidence to support the claimed medicinal impact of these products. She followed with a human trial. Houghton explained that these trials validate the efficacy of the nutraceutical products.
During trials with the broccoli product, some adverse side effects on the body were observed. This is expected. At the core every product, organic or inorganic, is composed of molecules. Even though, there is a prevalent belief among natural products enthusiasts that these do not have side effects, the facts do not support this belief.
Side effects, though, should not take away from the merit of the Cell Logic’s nutrigenomics products that are a step forward for supplement precision products.
Nutrigenomics can be called an offshoot of science of genomics. Even before the full sequencing of the DNA was completed in 2003, scientists understood that human characteristics were determined by genes. We understood that many ailments were triggered by genes.
It soon became apparent that some drugs were found to be ineffective on some patients and highly effective in others. This was attributed to action of the genes. In order to understand this phenomenon, scientists started mapping genes and linking these to individual specific therapeutic action. Thus began precision or individualized medicine.
Diagnostic tests have made it possible to identify biomarkers. These are often located in/on the genes, although they can also reside outside of DNA. Medication directed at biomarkers could help up regulate or down regulate a health condition. As understanding of the role of biomarkers increased, new drug therapies were developed.
According to the 2016 key note address at the Personalized Medicine Coalition (PMC), over 140 such targeted therapies have been developed by the pharmaceutical industry. These have all been cleared by FDA and are being used in treating many life threatening diseases like cancer, etc.
However, unlike pharmaceutical products, nutrigenomic products are yet to be approved as medicine by FDA or any similar internationally recognized regulator. They are still regarded as nutrition supplements. Nutritional supplements are often ignored by the general health care sector. Houghton attributed this lack of enthusiasm to lack of training and appreciation of the value of nutrigenomics by the physician community in general.
Why is it that there are no unicorns in the natural products space? This question has been agitating my mind for some time. I looked at Cell Logic closely to see if I can identify something that is preventing the emergence of this phenomenon in this industry.
There are certain comparisons that probably will give a hint to the reasons for this state of affairs in the industry. Founders of tech startup companies that become unicorns were not just great innovators, but aggressive business people. Even a small team with a company created in a garage would be composed of people with varying and business complementary skills.
On the other hand, companies such as Cell Logic and others creating innovative products in the natural products space were individual centric. To make a business impact, there is a need to look beyond oneself. There appeared to be a lack of will to build institution mechanisms that will help take an innovation to the next stage.
Until that happens, it will not be science-based product manufacturers who will be leaders, but the raw material ingredient suppliers from Asia and elsewhere, or product distributors who will rule the roost. There is an urgent need for science based nutra companies to take a look at their business models.
Sudhir Ahluwalia is a business consultant. He has been management consulting head of Tata Consultancy Services, an IT outsourcing company in Asia, business advisor to multiple companies, columnist and author of upcoming book on herb, “Holy Herbs." He has been a member of the Indian Forest Service.