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Biotech firm launches mission to commercialize novel prebiotics

By Elaine Watson , 27-Jul-2011
Last updated the 27-Jul-2011 at 15:12 GMT

A New Orleans-based biotech firm on a mission to commercialize “novel evidence-based prebiotic products” is aiming to bring its first products to market next year.

Co-founded by Whole Foods Market chairman John Elstrott and serial biotech entrepreneur Dale Pfost, NuMe Health has just secured new funds from venture capital firm BVM Capital and hired entrepreneur Dean Stull as its chief executive.

The plan is to develop a series of branded products – initially supplements, but later on functional and medical foods - containing proprietary blends of (as yet unspecified) ingredients with claims backed by clinical data.

Stull told NutraIngredients-USA: “Our first product will be a blend of three ingredients from three different plant sources, on which we are about to conduct a human clinical study, but we are also looking at introducing ingredients that are not on the market today.

“We’re not making the brand name public yet, and the product delivery form is also wide open at this stage. We’re looking at liquids and solids in prototypes.”

Specific health claims

Rather than making generic claims about digestive health, NuMe planned to home in on more specific prebiotic-related claims and benefits relating to weight management (effects of prebiotics on gut hormones affecting satiety etc), metabolism and insulin sensitivity, he said.

But bosses had “no interest” in promoting products on a technical (sugar/fat replacement) or straight ‘added fiber’ platform, he said.

While there were several prebiotic ingredients already on the market claiming to stimulate the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, from inulin and fructo oligosaccharides (FOS) from plants to galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) from milk and resistant starch from maize, NuMe products would contain multiple ingredients, said Stull.

“We don’t think any one ingredient or fiber has the answer.”

Outstanding team

NuMe, which is based at the new BioInnovation Center in New Orleans, was “not your run of the mill average start up”, added Stull, who founded biotech consultancy Innovation Science and chairs the board of bioanalytical services firm Pyxant Laboratories. Prior to that he was chief scientific officer of medical foods company Efficas.

We’re not a bunch of dreamers, we’ve all done this before.”

NuMe was collaborating with researchers at the Tulane University School of Medicine and the Louisiana State University (LSU) system, including the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the LSU Agricultural and Mechanical College and the LSU Health Sciences Center, said Stull.

It was also working with the Xavier University College of Pharmacy and the US Dept of Agriculture's Southern Research Station, he added.

The prebiotic market

The US market for prebiotic ingredients - which survive to reach the large intestine where they provide ‘good’ bacteria with something to eat - is forecast to double in the next five years to more than $220m, according to market researcher Frost & Sullivan.

However, much of this growth was being driven by an interest in sugar, fat and calorie reduction rather than an interest in stimulating the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, noted research associate Tejaswini Prabhu.

“Companies that have successfully launched prebiotic products in the US [Beneo Orafti, Sensus America and GTC nutrition] market the low-calorie and sugar-free aspect of the product as much as the prebiotic effects. Rarely are individual prebiotic claims made.”

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