The agreement between Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network, Inc. (MAHRN), a developer of functional agri-ingredients, and Minnesota-based TruHealthMD, which develops food-based solutions for chronic disease, will more rapidly advance the development and commercialization of condition specific food and nutrition therapies. The initial focus of the agreement will be to develop products and strategies to meet the need of prediabetic consumers. The groups signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) this week at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) 2013 convention in Chicago.
“We are going to base this on our successful model with our current heart health line which is a portfolio approach to disease control. (The new products developed with MAHRN) won’t all be grain-based; there will be fruits, there will be some other plant extracts but they will all be kind of in their original food form. It’s really about agricultural-based ingredients,” said Barb Birr, co-founder of TruHealthMD.
“What we do is somewhat like a compounding pharmacy. We take a variety of ingredients and we select them for their nutritional benefits around their specific benefits around specific diseases and we put them together to deliver a comprehensive management tool,” she said.
Line aimed to fill nutritional gaps
Birr founded the company with cardiologist Dr. Elizabeth Klodas. The original heart health product line built on her experience in her practice and what she was as common nutritional deficiencies she saw in her patients that contributed to cardiac disease.
The company offers a variety of food products fortified with phytoserols and Pycnogenol, a branded French maritime pine bark extract manufactured by Horphag. But the products, which include a sprinkle that can be used as a topping or an addition to a food like yogurt, two nutritional bars, a pancake mix, a high-fiber oatmeal and a smoothie mix, aren’t fortified in other ways. They are designed around a plug-and-play type system; two servings of any of the products per day deliver the amount of antioxidants, omega-3s and phytosterols that Klodas has identified as being optimal for heart health.
Despite its commitment to a whole-food approach, the company did settle on the phytosterols and Pycnogenol as necessary fortification ingredients, as benefits these offered are hard to achieve in a standard diet.
“Phytosterols is one of those ingredients that is really hard to get enough from whole food sources to be effective. Phytosterols is one of thse that is very challenging unless you give someone two cups of something. We chose Pycnogenol for its antioxidant benefit,” Birr said.
“What we do want to do is to provide a program to fill the nutritional gap that we see in traditional diets. The heart line was based around the nutritional deficiencies Dr. Klodas sees in her practice. She sees that her patients are not getting enough fiber, antixodants and phytosterols,” she said.
MAHRN pact brings new capapbilities
The new product lines addressing diabetes will go beyond Klodas’ comfort zone of heart health, which is where the expertise of the Manitoba consortium comes in, Birr said.
“That’s why we think the partnership with Manitoba is so critical. Prediates is really an area their scientists are focused on.
“We are really just starting to put the framework around what the most important nutrients are for prediabetes. I can tell you Manitoba is developing a carrot powder which halts the progression of macular degeneration. Eye health will be a component of that prediabetic line,” she said.
TruHealthMD’s products have been available online up ot this point. Since the private company’s launch a year ago it has shown what Birr characterized as good progress in sales growth. Future distribution possibilities might include pharmacies, she said.
MAHRN’s members include Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine (CCARM); Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals (RCFFN); and Food Development Centre (FDC). The organization’s mission is to promotes Manitoba's capacity and capabilities in the research, development and commercialization of functional foods and nutraceuticals.