Guest article

‘Under Siege’: A year of reflection and next level growth

By George Paraskevakos, Executive Director, International Probiotics Association (IPA)

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / image_jungle
© Getty Images / image_jungle
As I celebrated three years at IPA in April, I couldn’t help but reflect on the shape the industry has taken. Going from being sparingly mentioned in the press and fast forward to today and it is almost every other week we see probiotics in the headlines. There are reports of the science and great research being conducted in the field but the bulk of the reporting is what I would call ‘negative press’.

Opportunistic reporting in the main stream media mostly focusing on misunderstood information with the simple reason to sell viewership or clicks. I can’t help but to think of a movie I saw many decades ago called ‘Under Siege’ – this was a film based on the premise that an ex-navy seal turned cook on a battleship tries to save the day by fighting off invaders. Well I’m no navy seal but in my own way have gone to war against these nay-sayers, non-believers of our industry and fighting very hard to maintain our industries integrity.

The plan in theory is relatively simple – stick to what we know and do best, and communicate it. Build off of IPA’s 4 key pillars of championing standards and guidelines for the sector, be the recognized probiotic authority for regulatory bodies globally, increase the awareness and knowledge of probiotics to HCP’s, government agencies, and trade, and be a platform of interaction by fostering networking and exchange opportunities for the sector. 

Executing still has its challenges, as IPA still remains a small non-profit association but we are slowly instilling what I envisioned when I came into the role and that is being ‘The Global Voice of Probiotics’.

Guidelines, workshops and more

Early into the year, we ramped up our work on the IPA’s manufacturing guidelines for probiotics​. These are near completion and alongside the labelling best practices already published and the newly formed analytical and technical committee, which will address analytical criteria for probiotics, will add to the chapter of IPA’s quality guide for the probiotic industry.

Our outreach continues to government agencies via the workshops IPA conducts​, the comments and position papers we publish and share with regulators and finally conferences we attend with regulators present. 2019 will see an increased commitment for the IPA regulatory workshops series, as we are now booking dates for six this coming year; 3 in the LATAM region, Australia, China and a return to the US. We also have had requests from India, Thailand, and Poland, which we will surely look into for 2020.

George P Screenshot SQ
George Paraskevakos, IPA's executive director

Conference attendance and presentations will continue as IPA put on 4 probiotic resource centers this past year; VF Geneva, Supply Side China, VF Asia, SSW Las Vegas. Our collaboration with the Probiota​ series​ is also intensifying as we again had well over 300 attendees at the IPA World Congress / Probiota in Barcelona in February and collaborated on the Miami and Singapore events. This will only intensify as we are also looking to China for upcoming years. In my opinion, this past year also signaled the coming of new regions into the market.

We are starting to see upward trending of probiotic usage in APAC and China but more telling were the requests I had to present at important conferences in these regions on topics of market data and global regulations. I am also confident that this will be the year IPA finalizes the structure and begin work on the ‘white paper’ on probiotic consumption in China and how this can impact disease prevention and economic cost savings.

Probiotics might be mainstreaming as North America and now APAC and China are coming on board but if we think for a moment the markets of those regions in the world that still are left to ‘turn on the switch’ I would say that there is still work to do ensuring proper regulations, standards, quality and awareness. We are on the positive side of growth.

FSMA, Brazil, and a new Scientific Director

Other items of importance to mention are, we are collaborating with Larisa Pavlick from UNPA​ to put in place the FSMA model for Probiotics, have had follow up meetings with FDA post IPA’s citizen petition and the consequent discretionary guidance issued from them​, and this year also saw the publication of probiotic guidelines from Anvisa in Brazil which IPA published a position paper and had some input on that guidance.

At time of publication IPA was at 107 member companies coming from 27 countries around the globe. IPA touches many aspects of the probiotic industry but one area we will concentrate on building this coming year is science. IPA hired Jessica Terhaar (née Younes) as our Scientific Director​ and will concentrate on building the associations scientific DNA and build and communicate the great science, which exists in our sector.

As 2018 is coming to a close it is only fitting that my last travels of the year was the codex meeting in Berlin. With an ongoing collaboration already in place with Argentina, my blue sky dream of global guideline harmonization in the probiotic sector took one step forward. The Argentinian working document remained on the agenda for next year​, will be revised and IPA will continue to work in tandem with Argentina which is the lead country for this work to be presented at next year’s Codex meeting in Dusseldorf. In closing, as in the film ‘Under Siege’ the good guys prevailed and I am positive that with all the great work the probiotic industry is doing we will also.

I would like to thank all of IPA’s member companies and collaborators for their efforts in supporting my objective and determination to continue elevating IPA’s global awareness as the probiotic industry’s voice.

Wishing all my friends family and acquaintances a merry holiday season and definitely a healthy 2019.

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