The Research Process: Innovation & Research: Perfect Together

By Douglas Kalman, PhD | April 1, 2009

Product-specific research is key in today's nutraceuticals market.

Have you ever wondered what it takes to fully enjoy and share the benefits of a product without potential regulatory backlash? How do you promote a product so as to increase sales and corporate viability, while at the same time limiting litigation or other risks? While these are not everyday thoughts in a brand manager’s mind, they should be in today’s nutraceuticals market.

The goal of this month’s column is to encourage innovation in terms of product creation, while also underscoring the importance of finished product research. First and foremost, current economic conditions do not diminish the importance of having firsthand research on your finished product. If anything, this economy is a reminder that in order to have value, the product must have perceived and actual worth.

A dietary supplement with no intellectual property (IP)—including real human data demonstrating safety, efficacy or both—hurts a company, because it is worth only as much as the consumer is willing to pay for it. However, a product with fully exploited IP—again, including real research to support claims—enhances the corporate bottom line, because there is data that can be discussed via targeted marketing messages. Further, the options of in- or out-licensing always remain, especially if a company does not want to retail the product themselves. And let’s not forget about the state and/or federal tax credits that can be utilized to offset the costs of research. These tax credits can help you design a smarter, more profitable research plan for your products.

Applying this Paradigm to the Weight Loss Arena

If you have been following the diet wars—being fought over which popular diets fare best for weight loss over the long- and short-term—things are just starting to get interesting. Recently, the New England Journal of Medicine released a study, “Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates,” which essentially compared four different diets (varying in macronutrient ratios) that are representative of popular and academic dietary recommendations for Americans. Most data indicate that over the short-term, the Atkins diet will lead to the greatest weight loss, but what about over time when compared to other diets? This study found that over the first six months, irrespective of the diet, weight loss was about 6 kg (7% of body weight). Over the full two-year period, weight loss was similar for groups with 15 or 25% protein in the diet.

Putting aside the amount of weight lost throughout the two-year study period, the aspect of this study that catches my eye is the authors’ claim that 80% of the 811 enrolled subjects completed the trial. This spells OPPORTUNITY (stay with me…). Most people who decide to alter their lifestyle and start eating in a new way (i.e., going from the typical American diet to the South Beach Diet) often do not make the lifestyle or diet changes permanent. In fact, it is estimated that the average dieter will undergo four diet “attempts” in a calendar year, typically lasting eight to 12 weeks in duration. The authors of this study did recognize that those participants who regularly attended group sessions did better in their weight loss, emphasizing the need for support programs for any products or services related to weight control.

The lesson to be learned here is that weight control supplements and/or foods should be repositioned as “weight loss adjuncts” or “weight loss support” products. Regardless of the diet utilized, weight loss ensued in this study. Furthermore, all of the diets improved lipid-related risk factors and fasting insulin levels. So it is possible to claim that any person put on any of these diets would lose weight. In this case, it makes sense to put people on diets that best fit their personal food and lifestyle preferences, especially because it will enhance compliance and result in long-term success.

This notion of positioning a product for “weight loss support” was recently discussed in a peer-reviewed, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial published in the British Journal of Nutrition. This study utilized a specialized patented product (e.g., Phospholean) and examined if it versus placebo would have an effect on weight loss adherence. Now keep in mind, if you put a person on a diet pattern (lifestyle) they could follow, the long-term success rate is high. This study found that the dropout rate for those on placebo was 27%, compared to 6% for those taking the real product. In other words, those taking the dietary supplement for “weight loss support” were about three times more likely to stay in the study and on the diet.

We’ve learned from top tier journals that weight loss occurs best on programs that the individual can stick with. We also know that the more support a person gets, the greater their chances of success. Thus, combining or designing a product that enhances lifestyle compliance, while the lifestyle drives the weight loss seems like a no-brainer.