It used to be that the food and biotechnology industries seemed to be the antithesis of each other, but that’s not the case anymore. In the past five years, consumer demand for healthier foods—especially those that use ingredients that claim to have health benefits—has caused an increasingly successful convergence of the two industries. A new report from Global Business Insights recently encapsulated the state of the “biotech for wellness” market and provided some interesting insights.
In the report, titled "Biotech for Wellness: Driving successful R&D and licensing in nutraceuticals through new business models and collaboration," author Dr. Cheryl Barton said the shift that continues to align the biotech and wellness industry sectors has relied upon such drivers as the growing older consumer segment that’s hampered by chronic, lifestyle-related health problems; the rising costs of healthcare and potential savings from preventive measures; increased consumer engagement and awareness of health; and a willingness to look beyond traditional medicine to prevent future illness.
A primary factor uniting the biotech and nutraceutical industries has been the focus on many of the same lifestyle disease growth markets, though the focuses have originated from different standpoints and different goals. “Consequently, a number of factors are leading to the convergence of the food and biotech sectors including the increasing use of ingredients that claim to have health benefits and which have been studied in clinical trials to demonstrate these benefits; and the increasing scientific evidence for a link between diet and the cause or treatment of a number of diseases,” wrote Dr. Barton.
Some examples of the common nutraceutical ingredients of interest between the two sectors have been omega 3 fatty acids, phytosterols and stanols, probiotics and prebiotics, with the aim to support health or target risk factors for chronic diseases such as cholesterol. The clinical evidence behind a nutraceutical product varies widely, wrote Dr. Barton. Some have been tested with pharmaceutical rigor to demonstrate properties beneficial to health, while for others the evidence to support claims has been slim.
Among the most progressive aspects to arise out of the biotech and wellness industries’ increased cooperation has been the increasingly progressive nature of clinical research and identification/development of ingredients with the potential to impact disease.
“A number of companies are now adopting a more biotech-like approach to nutraceutical development, including nutraceuticals that modulate specific taste receptors. Examples of companies adopting this approach for discovery of novel nutraceuticals are B.R.A.I.N., InterMed Discovery, Matis, Medisyn Technologies, Redpoint Bio and Senomyx,” wrote Dr. Barton. “Additional companies are developing libraries of natural products that can be screened for their health benefits in laboratory models of disease. Often these companies aim to maximize the potential of local resources, such as knowledge about traditional Chinese medicinal herbs, to attract customers from the food and biotech industries.”
Clinical trials for nutraceuticals are nearly identical to drug trials, with the exception of the populations chosen for inclusion. “Those enrolled in a study to prove the efficacy of a new drug will have a defined disease whereas those enrolled in a food study should either be healthy or belong to a population that can be extrapolated to the healthy population,” said Dr. Barton, who added, “Biomarkers of risk reduction have been identified as a key area for research and one that is likely to require collaboration between industry players and academia in order to be cost effective and fruitful.”
And speaking of cost effectiveness, just as drug repurposing (or, finding new uses for existing drugs) is a growing trend for sustained profitability in the pharmaceutical industry, it’s also become a key trend in the nutraceutical market. Examples have been the broadened use of omega 3 fatty acids and probiotics to favorably influence a range of diseases and conditions.
As consumers become more aware of the need for preventive measures to improve their health and well-being, market opportunities are created for new nutraceuticals in the form of functional food products or dietary supplements. However, Dr. Barton stressed that knowledge and understanding of the marketplace, supported by market research, will be critical for these products to succeed.
“The key factors of convenience, taste and flavor must be initial considerations for a new nutraceutical product,” she said. “Beyond this, products must be different, must have an effect that is felt quickly, tackle an area in which consumers understand the medical need and be delivered in innovative packaging that helps differentiate the product and deliver a ‘daily dose’.”
In her assessment of the factors that will contribute to the successful creation of future nutraceutical ingredients and products, Dr. Barton proposed that nutraceutical developers take note of the manner in which biotech products are developed. “Discovering and developing biotech products follows a well tested route in which the tasks and requirements associated with each step in the drug discovery are clear and benchmarked, as are the values placed on those task milestones and the investment required to accomplish them,” she wrote. “Growth in the nutraceuticals industry, as well as the increased application of biotech approaches, suggests that such a roadmap might also be useful for the development of nutraceuticals in the future.”
Partnerships forged between food and biotech companies also afford the opportunity to work together and with academia to identify and validate biomarkers for risk reduction and within target populations. “This latter area has been of particular relevance to medicine over the past few years as interest and investment in ‘personalized medicine’ has grown,” she noted.
The last five years have also seen the pharma and biotech industries begin to shift their business models from internally-focused R&D to external “open network” models. “Leading ingredient manufacturers and food companies have witnessed the changes and success of the open network model and have begun to adopt aspects of this model themselves,” commented Dr. Barton. “The overarching business model for the food industry is evolving into something that more closely resembles the hierarchical structure of biotech in which networks, contract research organizations, in-licensing and acquisition play a greater part in product development.”
In conclusion, the report stated that biotech players “have largely taken a step back from functional foods,” though some have created consumer health divisions with focuses on supplements (Bayer, Mead Johnson, Merck and Pfizer) or medical foods (Abbott). Other companies (like GlaxoSmithKline) are seeking to incorporate nutraceutical ingredients into pharmaceutical development programs.
But the larger issue going forward is accessibility. “As the food and drinks industry continues to evolve to meet the consumers' demand,” said Dr. Barton, “there is an urgent need for a wider debate into the ethics of producing foods that offer the potential to prevent disease at prices that can be afforded only by select portions of society.”