Ester-C is an advanced form of vitamin C developed and marketed by US company Zila Nutraceuticals. Amongst the benefits is a neutral pH, which means that the vitamin is gentler on the stomach than traditional forms of the vitamin.
(When people think they need to boost their vitamin C, for example when they have a cold, they have a tendency to take larger doses, which can result in an upset stomach.)
The patented process involves mixing ascorbic acid and calcium carbonate. The company says the changes that take place in the form of the vitamin are similar to those that occur naturally in the body, resulting in enhanced levels of metabolites.
In particular it contains the natural metabolite threonate, which studies have indicated may boost the bioavailability of Ester-C.
Now the company has adapted the product with the addition of a new metabolite said to increase antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic potential - a development kept the R&D team busy for several years.
The company has a store of US and international patents relating to Ester-C, the earliest of which were filed in the late 1980s. With (US) patent protection lasting 20 years from date of filing (or 17 from granting), this means that some of the core intellectual property was set to expire soon, opening up the market to competitors.
However the company has filed new patents for the enhanced formulation, which protect its innovation until 2019, allow it maintain its differentiation and stay one step ahead of the game.
Zila is nearing the point where the new version will be ready for commercial distribution - although a firm release date has yet to be given.
"We will be working with out customers to assure a smooth transition to this new product as we get closer to the product launch date," said chairman, CEO and president Douglas D Burkett.
Zila has devoted much energy to the European market for Ester-C in the last year.
Because the product is a modified form of the vitamin, a safety dossier has been submitted to European authorities for its addition to the 2002 supplements directive list of permitted ingredients.
The UK has granted derogation under a special procedure that permits its use in the market until a review by scientific experts. Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden have responded positively to the dossier, giving the firm room for further growth in other markets.
Moreover two new distribution deals signed at the tail end of 2005 mean that Ester-C is now available in all Scandinavian countries.
International sales manager Steve Hanson said recently that the company is stepping up both its consumer and trade marketing in the UK.
Ester-C has been the subject of numerous studies, including into safety and tolerance, absorption, retention and excretion, cellular uptake of vitamin C, and potency comparisons with regular vitamin C.
Research into its effects on the immune system is on-going.
Net revenues for Zila Nutraceuticals for the year to end of July 2005 increased 19 per cent over the prior year to $38.5 million. The revenue gain was driven largely by increased national TV and radio advertising support for Ester-C and the vitamin E product, Ester-E.