In late 2004 the world market for the joint health ingredient was impacted as supplies of the raw material chitin, 90 per cent of which comes from China, were previously the subject of a bidding war due to shrimp shortages. This was compounded by the introduction of US anti-dumping duties, and prices rose from around $5 per kilo in February 2004 to $20 in December of the same year.
But Sundeep Aurora, president of Indian company Pharmed Medicare which claims to supply more than 50 per cent of Europe's glucosamine, told NutraIngredients.com that prices have come down to around the $12 to $14 per kilo mark, and there they have remained for the last six months.
One of the reasons is that Chinese supply has become more constant. A new vegetarian source of glucosamine manufacturered by Cargill has also helped ease the pressure.
Another, according to Aurora, is that glucosamine products have become less in vogue.
"I am not suggesting that interest has declined," he said. "It continues to be one of the most important nutraceutical products. But there is no euphoria about it."
At the same time, people are casting about for new products for the category.
Although there have been several drum-rolls introducing new ingredients - such as Litozin from Danish rose hip (Europharma), Nexrutine from the bark of the phellodendron tree, and (Next Pharmaceuticals), and milk protein Microlactin (DNP), as well as new studies on methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) - none looks set to touch the success of glucosamine just yet, which Aurora says is now worth $400m in the US and $100m in Europe.
The problem today, Aurora said, is that the cost of introducing a new molecule is high and the research effort is substantial.
In his view, the join health market has actually entered a period of consolidation, and he expects this to continue.
As for the $14m Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT, New England Journal of Medicine Vol 354, pp. 795-808), sponsored by the US National Institute of Health, it has not delivered the industry the boost it had hoped for. Although the results seemed positive, Aurora called it a "damp squib" on the grounds that the benefit for moderate to severe arthritis pain was evaluated at a very low level.
The trial studied the effect of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements on 1583 people with osteoarthritis. Sixty-four per cent were women.
While primary outcome measures showed little benefit over the placebo, the 348 participants in the moderate-to severe category reported a decrease in pain of 25 per cent on the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC), compared to placebo.
But Aurora compared the evaluation to an examination where the pass rate is just 10 per cent. "Everybody passes, and that's nonsense".
Other critics of the study have expressed disappointment that the trial used glucosamine hydrochloride rather than glucosamine sulphate, which is more widely available as a dietary supplement and would have allowed more comparison with other studies in the field.