South African research body seeks cash to fund fresh probe into Hoodia bioactive

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Hoodia gordonii Effectiveness Phytopharm

Hoodia gordonii is claimed to be a powerful appetite suppressant
Hoodia gordonii is claimed to be a powerful appetite suppressant
Researchers in South Africa remain confident that P57 – the active component in Hoodia gordonii at the centre of an ill-fated partnership between Unilever and UK life sciences firm Phytopharm – can be successfully commercialized was speaking to South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) following Phytopharm’s decision to transfer commercialisation rights for P57 – the molecule believed to be responsible for Hoodia’s appetite-suppressing qualities – back to CSIR after 15 years.

While Phytopharm had not identified a new partner to work with on functional food applications for P57 after Unilever pulled the plug on their €20m tie-up in 2008, CSIR communications chief Tendani Tsedu said he nevertheless remained “positive and optimistic on the further development and commercialization of Hoodia”.

Internal review of the clinical data

P57 had been “shown to be efficacious in non-drink based formats”, ​added Tsedu, and the​CSIR was now seeking funding “from a number of agencies such as National Research Foundation and the Technology Innovation Agency” ​in order to conduct a review of the available data.

We have started an internal review of clinical data and have applied for funding to appoint external experts to assist. Detailed review of all data will be subject to the necessary funding being obtained.

“The CSIR will appoint an expert panel to review all clinical data including the data from the Unilever clinical trial with a panel of experts to inform any future developments. Once the reviews and a study of all the data generated to date are completed, we will be in a better position to make a decision on the future.”

Digestive side effects in beverage applications

Unilever blamed “safety and efficacy issues​” for its decision to part company with Phytopharm ​in 2008, although Phytopharm insisted that tests had merely highlighted that solid products such as bars were more suitable carriers for Hoodia than the SlimFast-style drinks that Unilever was allegedly focusing on.

“Unilever was working specifically on a beverage application, where the extract is metabolized too quickly”,​ Phytopharm told our sister publication at the time. “The problem is, if you use enough to be efficacious ​[in a beverage], it can have digestive side effects.”

However, the break-up with Unilever dented market confidence, while an influx of generic Hoodia from China that does not even contain P57 has also hit the ingredient’s credibility in recent years.

Phytopharm will retain share of future profits

Under a co-operation agreement​ struck late last year, Phytopharm will provide the CSIR with technical and research expertise, said Phytopharm chief executive Tim Sharpington.

“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 commercialization income.”

Phytopharm secured a global license to market Hoodia gordonii​ - a succulent eaten by the San people of the Kalahari desert to stave off hunger pangs – in the mid 1990s, but did not hook up with Unilever until 2004 after a collaboration with Pfizer failed to deliver.

Unilever had been preparing a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) notification to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when it first got into bed with Phytopharm, but did not pursue it after the relationship went sour.

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