Yesterday's confirmation to NutraIngredients.com marks the end of over 2 years of press speculation that marked the fall-out from the break-down of the UK life sciences firm's tie-up with Unilever to commercialise a Hoodia-based weight-management product, after which it insisted it was pursuing negotiations with other major players to further work on its concentrated plant extract.
Unilever safety concerns
Hoodia gordonii is a rare South African succulent widely sold as a satiety-inducing supplement that leaves those who take it with the feeling of fullness, but safety concerns about fake hoodia supplements and other issues have tarnished the plant’s image.
From 1995 Phytopharm leased an exclusive patent from the South African government to isolate, extract and synthesise the steroidal glycoside molecule ‘P57’ first developed in a powder form by the latter’s scientists, which is widely believed to be responsible for the plant’s appetite suppressing effects.
In December 2004 the firm then entered into a joint partnership with Unilever to develop a P57-based SlimFast shake, only for the drugs giant to exit the relationship in late 2008 citing “safety and efficacy” issues, where the shake format was rumoured to cause digestive problems since it was metabolised too quickly.
Co-operation deal signed
Phytopharm revealed in its recent preliminary full-year results announcement that it had signed a “co-operation agreement…with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) South Africa, which will fund the future development and commercialisation of Hoodia Gordonii as an appetite suppressant.”
“The CSIR, one of the leading research institutions in Africa, is now responsible for further development and commercialisation of Hoodia Gordonii for the management of obesity.”
Sharpington told NutraIngredients.com last night that the deal was a co-operation ‘agreement’ in the full sense, stressing that it is neither a full rights sale nor a standard licensing deal, given that “we licensed it [P57] through the CSIR in the first place”.
Phytopharm would provide the CSIR with technical and research expertise, he explained, adding: “The CSIR originated the patents, and we licensed the intellectual property rights – so we’re giving them back the original patent rights and some other rights in return for a share in future commercialisation income.”
Exiting functional foods
Asked whether he still thought Hoodia had a future a functional ingredient, Sharpington said: “It’s an interesting product, but it still needs some development work. The early Unilever work on solid formulations showed promise, but then they chose to pursue a liquid form and certain issues arose.”
“If it were my choice – and this is just a personal opinion – then I would be pursuing solid formulations, but I can tell you that the CSIR is very committed to the programme.
Sharpington added: “It’s important to stress that we have not lost faith in Hoodia,” before adding that the patent disposal formed part of a “corporate decision to exit the functional foods business” to focus on Phytopharm’s “exciting” pharmaceutical pipeline.