Little-known plant compounds that can help tackle increasing prevalence of chronic disease are set to drive future product development at DSM Nutritional Products, currently better known for its vitamins range than natural extracts, writes Dominique Patton.
Launching a prize for innovative research in human nutrition this week, the world's number one vitamin maker said it was placing special emphasis on research into natural plant compounds that promote health.
"The identification of new bioactive compounds has a very high priority," said Dr Peter Weber, DSM corporate scientist, in an interview with NutraIngredients.com.
"We are in an ageing environment where we need to focus on a kind of prevention, called risk reduction. For example, we need to reduce the risk factors of metabolic syndrome as soon as possible. People have a hard time eating a balanced diet but constituents of plants can offer health benefits."
The DSM Human Nutrition award was first presented two years ago to phytoestrogen specialist Dr Kenneth Setchell, professor of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
DSM is currently working on a soy phytoestrogen product, even though the €25,000 prize does not specify any further association between the winner and the company.
The new focus on plant compounds resulted in the roll-out last year of one of DSM's first plant-based products, Teavigo. A purified, concentrated form of the green tea active epigallocatechin gallate, developed under former owner Roche, the product has been backed by a sizeable marketing campaign in the US, and looks set to reach some finished products in Europe this year.
While the marketplace is increasingly flooded with green tea extracts, the concentration of EGCG in Teavigo sets it apart. DSM will be looking to develop other plant-derived compounds in a similar way.
"Teavigo is certainly part of our effort to get those bioactives out there," says Dr Weber. "Unlike almost all other suppliers, we have a unique R&D set-up with the tools to identify new compounds, carry out in vitro tests and human trials to follow up on efficacy and then the means to prove safety. And we can follow through with the production."
The move towards plant compounds can be seen as part of a drive for added value. Many of DSM Nutritional Products' core products are considered commodity ingredients with most vitamins used in human nutrition only growing at the same level as population growth.
New vitamin forms for different applications and new combinations are an important source of growth for the firm but the nutrition industry is always looking for new solutions to disease risk.
"If you look at our sales, about 20-25 per cent come from new ideas and new products launched in the last five to seven years," Bob Hartmayer, COO at the business, told NutraIngredients.com last year.
Only half of this comes from entirely new products, and the rest from new forms of existing products.
The award will not only support plant bioactive research, but also demonstrates a commitment to innovation, something the Nutritional Products business is keen to reinforce in the changeover from pharma ownership to a speciality chemicals group.
It is one of the largest offered by an ingredient supplier on a regular basis. Research and product development within DSM Nutritional Products is backed by an R&D budget of around SF120 million (€77.4m).
The award will be presented at the International Congress of Nutrition in Durban, South Africa in September, one of the biggest scientific events in the nutrition field.
"The idea is that DSM is an important player in the field. It is the biggest supplier to the food industry and this demonstrates its commitment to the field and to innovation," said Dr Weber.
More information on the award is available on DSM's website .