Supporting small, family-owned farms, helping educate poor children through his charitable foundation, and continuing to lead the natural products industry with strong vision and principled leadership, Dr. Majeed’s imprint on the world will last for generations. Thirty years since he established Sabinsa, Dr. Majeed took a look back, and ahead, in a recent interview with Nutraceuticals World.
Nutraceuticals World (NW): You’ve played a significant role in introducing traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda), to Western cultures. Can you reflect on the journey?
Dr. Majeed: When I founded Sabinsa no company was conducting research on traditional Ayurvedic herbal ingredients. As a scientist, I was determined that we would use modern science to investigate traditional herbs, confirm their safety and efficacy, and find additional benefits and applications. We’ve done that successfully for 30 years, and have pioneered a number of ingredients in wide use today. Ayurveda is now a household name and the wisdom of the ancients has been confirmed by modern science.
Although the source of my inspiration has been Ayurveda, I knew that we could develop unique, fundamentally beneficial products by applying scientific rigor to tradition. The Sabinsa approach gave Ayurveda a real direction for modern science to apply to it, which our plethora of research and patents confirm.
My intention for Sabinsa Corporation was to consistently exemplify the “best practices” necessary to demonstrate commitment to quality, science and innovation. This included funding clinical studies on our own products and publishing the findings. We censured borrowing of science and intellectual property theft. When the industry, for a time, primarily bought ingredients as commodities, with price the only factor, Sabinsa was among the industry leaders that warned of the inevitable decline in product quality. We practiced and advocated standardization of herbs to ensure safety, efficacy and consumer confidence, no matter the variables inherent in herbs from season to season. Our practices positioned us well to meet today’s global marketplace challenges, and allow our customers to avoid the difficulties created by supply chain quality failings.
NW: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced over the past 30 years?
Dr. Majeed: Sabinsa pioneered the first highly successful ingredient based upon the traditionally used fruit Garcinia cambogia and backed by modern research, Citrin, for weight management more than 20 years ago. Almost immediately another company “borrowed” our science to sell their own version of the ingredient, so early on we realized that hand-in-hand with groundbreaking ingredients supported by research we would also have to vigorously defend our intellectual property, which we continue to do successfully. It is a source of frustration that unethical companies continuing to infringe on our patents force us to take legal action to protect our intellectual property.
Another challenge, also stemming from companies that find it easier to cheat than to do things ethically, is the adulteration of curcumin with a synthetic version labeled as natural. We’ve identified the right test method to ensure natural origin and notified the industry and trade associations, yet this type of illegal use of potentially dangerous material is still in the marketplace.
NW: What are your proudest achievements?
Dr. Majeed: Among my proudest achievements is the number of patents we have been granted across the world, nearly 200 to date. I am also proud that Sabinsa has offices throughout the world, selling ingredients supported by published clinical studies. Sabinsa’s parent company, Sami Labs Ltd., is a Research, Development and Manufacturing group in the areas of Standardized Herbal Extracts, Cosmeceuticals, Probiotics, Spice Extracts, Minerals, Fine Chemicals, Phytochemicals and Specialized drug intermediates used in the nutritional, pharmaceutical and food industries. I have factories in Kunigal, Nelamangala, Dobaspet, all in the state of Karnataka, and in Genome Valley in Hyderabad. The combined companies have nearly 1,000 employees.
Sabinsa pioneered many herbs that have become enormous industry success stories, such as Garcinia cambogia, Coleus, curcumin, and black pepper extract. The company was the first to commercially deliver a shelf-stable probiotic nearly 25 years ago.
I’m also proud of our extensive cultivation program. We not only secure the quantity of high quality raw material we need to meet our customers’ needs, we materially improve the lives of small family farmers by supporting the small villages and ensuring fair income. Our recent move into reforestation programs is a long-term view into sustainable supplies, which we hope will inspire other members of the herbal products industry to do so as well.
The Dr. Majeed Foundation is less known in the U.S.; we work to improve educational opportunities for poor children in India without limitation due to their caste or religion.
NW: What are the pillars on which Sami-Sabinsa stands? What are your foundational principles?
Dr. Majeed: Sami-Sabinsa stands on solid research, innovative products, and finding solutions to improve human health.
NW: How has Ayurveda evolved, particularly with the integration of technology and advanced scientific practices?
Dr. Majeed: Ayurveda is one of the oldest medical systems in the world; the name itself translates into the “science of life.” Many of the treatments that have been used for literally thousands of years have been confirmed by modern research, some of it done by or fostered by Sabinsa. When companies first began marketing products made with Ayurvedic principles into the U.S. natural products market, they adhered to the classic practitioner approach of identifying a person’s Doshas and their proportions, and treating the ailment accordingly. This is complicated to convey in consumer product marketing.
Modern scientific research on Ayurvedic herbs confirmed many of the traditional benefits and identified additional ones, without being Dosha-specific, which opened the door to making the benefits of these age-old remedies more widely available to help mankind. Today, most people have at least heard of Ayurveda, but may not realize that the supplement they are taking was initially researched based upon that ancient medical system.
NW: What are the biggest problems in the natural products industry that you would like to see addressed?
Dr. Majeed: Anyone who reads industry trade publications is aware that Sabinsa takes legal action against companies infringing on our patents and wins large monetary recompense in the end, but our preference would be for them not to engage in IP theft in the first place.
Adulteration of herbs continues to be problematic, ranging from substituting a natural extract with synthetic without revealing it as such, to poor quality material spiked with substances that fool cursory testing.
NW: How is climate change impacting growing regions for botanicals? How are you adapting?
Dr. Majeed: We have seen clear changes in growing patterns that impact agricultural yields and harvests, and are concerned, as everyone should be. While our cultivation programs and support of small farming communities infrastructure has helped so far, we are also cultivating some products in complimentary climates in other regions.
NW: What can we expect from Sabinsa in the next 30 years?
Dr. Majeed: Following our mission to support and improve human health, largely based on Ayurveda, new research on existing ingredients will continue. We will also explore more complex molecules, and we will engage in developing and marketing a broad, diverse range of categories in the dietary supplements and cosmetic fields. With our two current Indian FDA approved natural drugs, we will also pursue this route with more rigor, potentially outside of India as well.
NW: How do you like to spend your spare time?
Dr. Majeed: My spare time is still spent largely on reading new research that is happening out there. But of course, being with my children and grandchildren are the most cherished times I look forward to each day.
NW: What inspires/motivates you?
Dr. Majeed: How the body works and how Ayurveda and other traditional medicinal offerings benefit our health continues to fascinate me. The surrounding research that I am continuously working on gives me great encouragement that our R&D and products will contribute to the better health of mankind as we march on.