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Diabetes epidemic, settlement of patent suit means bright future for chromium, Nutrition 21 says

By Hank Schultz , 26-Mar-2014

A rising tide of diabetes will likely mean continued strong demand for chromium picolinate.
A rising tide of diabetes will likely mean continued strong demand for chromium picolinate.

The market for chromium is growing, driven by the ongoing tide of obesity and diabetes, said Bill Levi of Nutrition 21, which supplies Chromax, a patented form of chromium picolinate.

“Chromium is an essential trace mineral, and it is also a cofactor of insulin,” Levi, Nutrition 21’s vice president of strategy and business development told NutraIngredients-USA. “The primary driver for anything related to chromium is really glucose metabolism.”

“It is growing in multi-ingredient formulations,” Levi said. “Sales of standalone products have been pretty much flat.”

Patent settlement

And it was in those multi-ingredient formulations that chromium made news recently.  Boosting the trace mineral content of products to appeal to certain market segments has been one way multivitamin formulators have sought to differentiate their products in recent years. Pfizer, with its Centrum line, had been including chromioum picolinate (the most bioavailable form of the ingredient) in its formulas, and recently settled a patent infringement lawsuit brought by Nutrition 21.  The financial terms of the settlement are confidential, however, in conjunction with the settlement, Pfizer has agreed to license Nutrition 21’s patents.  In addition, Pfizer has acknowledged the validity of Nutrition 21’s asserted patents.

“We are delighted that we were able to reach an amicable resolution to our dispute with Pfizer. This reaffirms the strength of Nutrition 21’s patent portfolio which covers compositions and uses of a number of our products, including our Chromax® chromium picolinate,” said Michael Satow, president and CEO of Nutrition 21.

USDA research

Nutrition 21 holds a number of patents for chromium picolinate that originated in research done years ago by the United States Department of Agriculture, Levi said.

“It was invented by USDA as part of a project that was looking at reasons why infants who were breastfed had higher concentrations of trace minerals versus infants who were formula fed.  There is a naturally occuring metabolite in breast milk called picolinic acid.  They looked at the effect of synthesizing various trace minerals with picolinic acid,” Levis said.

“Fast forward to the present, and Nutrition 21 now holds the patents for chromium picolinate and zinc picolinate,” he said.

Growing market

The tide of diabetes in the US and worldwide will mean contintued strong demand for the ingredient. According to teh Centers for Disease Control, the number of people with diagnosed diabetes in the US more than tripled in the 1980-2011 time frame, growing from 5.6 million to 20.9 million.

“It’s not simply diabetes but its also hieghtened awarenes of glucose metabolism. The effects of poor glucose metabolism has an effect on a lot of different things, worst of which is diabetes.  But even before you get there, there are a number of different indications for the ingredient, such as weight management, healthy energy levels and mood support,” Levis said. “We have also done work in the cognitive function area. More glucose is utilized by the brain than any other organ in the body.”

Levi said the work that has been done on chromium picolinate means Chromax is the most highly researched chromium ingredient available.

“It comes down to the body of evidence.  There have been well over 50 human clinical studies on chromium picolinate involving more than 2,000 subjects. The body of evidence shows the clear superiority of chromium picolinate over other forms of the salt,” he said.

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