Phytopharm has said that in full year 2007 it expects to receive the balance of its Unilever's £3.5m contribution to the second stage of the five-stage development programme embarked on in 2005. To date £0.66m has been received, in addition to £6.5m for the first stage.
The total potential payments to Phytopharm in consideration of the whole programme amass to £21m. It will also receive an undisclosed royalty on sales of all products containing the extract.
The companies reported that they had successfully competed the first stage of the development programme in April. Details of this first stage have not been released by the company, but it is known that stage two will include clinical safety studies.
Phytopharm's functional foods portfolio also includes a plant-derived ingredient for canine skin health called Phytopica, with which it has an exclusive global marketing and distribution agreement.
"Our business strategy of combining the development of functional foods with specialty pharmaceuticals is consolidating rapidly," said Phytopharm chief executive Dr Richard Dixey when the company's preliminary FY2006 results were released in early November.
"We look forward to positive developments in both sides of the business over the coming period."
Hoodia, a cactus-like plant, has reportedly been eaten by the San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert to reduce hunger and increase energy for around 100,000 years.
Phytopharm's history with Hoodia dates back to 1997, when it licensed the global patent rights for the active extract, known as P47, for use in weight loss products from the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
In December 2001 it announced the results of a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study indicating that it reduces the caloric intake of overweight subjects.
The global license agreement was granted to Unilever in December 2005, after a pharmaceutical deal with Pfizer fell through.
Even though there is still no firm timescale for Unilever's route to market (Unilever said that the outset that the first products could be on the market within three years), the reputation of Hoodia gordonii has spread throughout the world, largely as a result of products purporting to contain the plant sold over the Internet.
Phytopharm said that it has conducted analysis of many of the claimed Hoodia products on the market that claim to cause weight loss, and found that "the great majority of them contained little or no Hoodia".
After having contacted the relevant authorities, Phytopharm and Unilever have expressed satisfaction that progress is being made in discussions to address this situation.
But controlling ineffective or false Hoodia products is one thing. In the past year, satiety has emerged as a major trend in the weight management category. A number of other companies have conducted science on and launched other plant-derived ingredients with the same aim.
For instance, DSM offers Fabuless, an ingredient and supplement from palm oil and oats; Lipid Nutrition introduced PinnoThin, derived from the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid pinolenic acid which comes from the seeds of the Korean pine nut tree, Pinus koraiensis; Hong Kong-based Gencor is currently launching Slimaluma, from a succulent called Caralluma Fimbriata from India, for use in dietary supplements in the US; and US-based PacificHealth Laboratories is funding research at the UK's Manchester University into its Satrietrim technology, which uses certain proteins and fats to stimulate the satiety peptide cholecystokinin.
It remains to be seen whether these will have stolen a march on the Phytopharm/Unilever extract, or whether they are paving the way for a much-anticipated blockbuster.