Why Pharma Taking Interest in Nutraceutical Industry?

Dr Samidha M Pawaskar
Dean, Research & Extension Head
Department of Biochemistry
K J Somaiya College of Science and Commerce

The nutraceutical industry globally can expect rapid growth, faster than pharma, and has a great future in India. As pharmaceutical products can cost much more than nutraceuticals, the size of the industry in monetary value terms may seem higher, but the reality lies in the volume of production. Nutraceuticals are consumed every day of the year as they are meant to keep one from falling sick. Nutraceuticals industry will overtake the worldwide pharmaceutical industry in volume in due course.

Hippocrates stated around 2000 year ago "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food". India has a rich heritage of natural resources and pioneers in its knowledge of ayurveda and herbal medicines from ancient time . Currently, people have started showing interest for their health and fitness. For this they are preferring options like diet, nutrition and functional ingredients of natural origin, with no side effects.

The term "Nutraceutical" was coined in 1989 by Stephen De Felice, he defined Nutraceuticals as a "food, or parts of a food, that provide medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease". Nutraceuticals may be used to improve wellbeing, increase life expectancy, prevent cardiovascular diseases, or support the overall health of the body. Nowadays, Nutraceuticals has received considerable interest due to potential nutritional and therapeutic effects without causing any harmful effects. Some popular Nutraceuticals that are yogurt, green tea, ginseng, omega-3, lutein, folic acid, and cod liver oil. Majority of the Nutraceuticals possess multiple therapeutic properties for example green tea is good for inducing fat loss, improves brain function and include many other benefits .

Both this "supply" and "need" based scenarios are supporting the nutraceutical industry and are motivating the researchers and businessmen for the development of more and more new nutraceutical formulations.

The pharmaceutical and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) giants have mapped this business opportunity and started dominating the Indian market. These industries showcase Nutraceuticals, functional foods and beverages sector as an extension of their healthcare sector. In the process these pharmaceutical companies began to lead the dietary supplement category. A dietary supplement is considered as a product that bears or contains one or more of the following dietary ingredients:
A mineral, a vitamin, an amino acid, a medicinal herb or other botanical, a dietary substance for use by human to supplement the diet by increasing the total daily intake, or a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combinations of these ingredients.

Nutraceuticals, which do not pose an environmental hazard, may be easier and faster to market. Promotion of Nutraceuticals industry will also boost agricultural sector. Farmers could gain from raising specialty crops such as garlic, cranberries and chicory with disease-fighting properties. Numerous new businesses are taking advantage of promising new markets for medicinal foods.

In contrast to Nutraceuticals, pharmaceutical companies need to follow stringent rules and regulations. Their drugs have to undergo extensive test procedures to check the bioavailability, efficacy and toxicity of the product that they plan to introduce in the market. To bring a medicine to market can take about 10 years and may cost enormously whereas to market an unlicensed nutraceutical can take just fraction of this. No such strict norms are applicable for nutraceutical industry. Also, pharmaceutical products cost much more than nutraceutical products because there are pricing norms in pharmaceutical companies, wherein there is a ceiling on MRP , based on the manufacturing cost of the product.

Moreover, the market demand for the pharmaceutical products (which falls under the curative medicine category) is low i.e., one generally will consume the product only when one falls sick, on an average 15 days in a year. In contrast, the ever increasing nutraceutical sector has a great market potential as the nutraceutical products can be consumed on daily basis to meet the RDA (recommended dietary allowances) of the body.

Hence the use of Nutraceuticals, as an attempt to accomplish desirable therapeutic outcomes with reduced side effects, as compared with other therapeutic agents has met with great monetary success. The preference for the discovery and production of Nutraceuticals over pharmaceuticals is well seen by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

Nutraceutical however, is no new concept, it has always been around and practised by many mothers around the globe, but only after being given a fancy name tag is it suddenly in the limelight. Nutraceutical has potential benefits of becoming the most popular sector in the near future and now itself the products are selling like hot cakes. Nutraceuticals has many cures which are under stringent study and can be implemented in the future bringing commendable benefit to all mankind in general in a nutritious and organic way.

Nutraceuticals and related complementary therapies clearly have beneficial biological and pharmacological effects, but long-term stability and safety is largely unproved. This is not the case with pharmaceutical products which have long term safety & stability. Also for harnessing the optimal benefits from these products while preventing adverse reactions will increasingly require the better standardization of dosages and formulations. Strategic research planning and the development of internationally accepted practical guidelines could provide a positive impact on the outcome of future nutraceutical trials. Subjecting these products to the same quantitative levels of control and regulation required for pharmaceuticals would be too restrictive and would negate the need for this special category of medicines . Nevertheless, qualitatively similar controls would allow better research, greater safety, and increased clinical benefits from Nutraceuticals.

The combination of nutraceutical formulation along with the pharmaceutical drug can now be an opportunity in pharmaceutical industry, example there can be an anti-carcinogenic drug which can be taken along with some nutritional supplement or extract of some plants having anti carcinogenic activity. If outcomes for such combinations will be effective then the patients would prefer combination therapies rather than taking nutraceutical and pharmaceutical drug separately. Another example can be vitamin D when taken with bisphosphonates class as osteoporosis drugs, may prove to be more effective than when taken singly or separately.

Few other drawbacks of nutracueticals are chances of self-medication, misleading advertisement, pricing,etc. Self-medication can be harmful if patient try to treat themselves using nutracueticals product during chronic disorders. Irresponsible advertising related to tall health claims may mislead the consumers. Nutraceuticals are produced from natural plant extracts, the process of extraction of Nutraceuticals product from plant sources is tedious and time consuming, and hence the products may be overpriced for common man.

Institutional focus on drugs and internal regulatory are two major areas that seem to challenge most pharmaceutical companies today which also leading them move into the nutraceutical space.

The multinational food companies now have their own scientific research institutes. They have sales forces selling some of their products to physicians.

However this doesn't mean that pharmaceutical is out of the game yet, but only that there is some new non-traditional competition in the area. The next few years will be an interesting time to be involved in the dynamic Nutraceuticals space.

Pharmaceuticals and nutraceutical companies need to focus on now on the "product innovation". India will be a strong market for such nutraceutical products. Convergence of food manufacturing companies with pharmaceutical companies to manufacture and market nutraceutical or functional food products would be another emerging trend that would catch on in the near future.