The Hoodia plant is native to the semi-deserts of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Angola. South African researchers first identified the appetite-suppressant properties of the Gordonii species of the family, attracting the attention of UK drug discovery firm Phytopharm.
The company patented a Hoodia molecule, called P57, and in a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study on 19 overweight men, showed that it had a statistically significant reduction on average daily calorie intake and also body fat content.
However progress on drug development stalled after pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which took on the drug in 2002, returned the rights to Phytopharm early last year, citing changes to its pipeline.
Millenium Health Supplements, which specialises in herbals and botanicals, is marketing the plant in the US and Canada on the back of Phytopharm's science, although it supplies a fine powder produced from chips of the whole plant. This is the first 'weight loss' product in its portfolio.
The Toronto-based company is distributing capsules by mail order or bulk powder for the wholesale market and says it has already had repeat orders since introducing the plant to the market in November. It will be keen to position the plant as an alternative to ephedra, another herbal with weight loss effects, recently banned by the Food and Drug Administration.
"This is a very clean, effective product," Jen Cully told NutraIngredientsUSA.com. "We will also look at different formulations using Hoodia as a base."
The US market for diet pills came close to $900 million in sales in 2002 but will finish 2003 closer to $800 million, according to a new report from Kalorama Information. Public health costs are also going up, with obesity-related medical costs hitting $75 billion in 2003, shows a recent study by the nonprofit group RTI International and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are no known side effects with Hoodia Gordonii although it is said to possess a mild aphrodisiac effect.