"Policosanol is a well-known natural ingredient shown to maintain healthy blood lipid levels," said Dr Qi Jia, chief scientific officer at Unigen .
Its cholesterol-lowering properties have been proven in more than 30 clinical studies, leading some to maintain that it could be used as an alternative to statins, which Unigen says may expose patients to the threat of liver damage or other side effects.
Until now most commercial policosanol has been extracted from sugarcane using a process developed by Cuban scientists. However this expensive process yields relatively low quantities, meaning that the commodity carries a high price tag.
Dr Jia told NutraIngredients-USA.com that his team investigated 40 different sources of policosanol, both plant and animal. They found that hydrolization of the soft scale insect ericerus pela yielded the greatest quantities of policosanol, with 90 percent purity.
The development means that policosanol supplied by Unigen's contracted manufacturing facility in China will be 25 percent cheaper than sugar-cane derived policosanol.
Previous clinical trials were based around sugarcane- or beeswax-derived policosanol, but the first trials of Unigen's insect-derived ingredient on animals were recently concluded. The results have not yet been published but they were, according to Dr Jia, encouraging.
Trials on humans are expected to commence at the Cleveland Heart Institute next month.
Interest from pharmaceutical companies in the US and overseas is already considerable, says Dr Jia, and once the trials are concluded he anticipates that take-up will be swift.
Policosanol derived from the soft scale insect is not a new compound per se, but has been used for many years in Chinese medicine to aid digestion, treat internal bleeding and as a source of protein and amino acids.
According to the American Heart Association, 70.1 million Americans have one or more type of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure and stroke. The mortality figure for 2002 was 927,448.