Stevenage-based Plasticell is using its ability to grow brown fat from stem cells to seek a “hit” in Pierre Fabre Laboratories’ 15,000-strong plant extract database.
A ‘hit’ would be a botanical bioactive that increases the activity of brown fat, which research indicates produces heat and burns lipids at a rate far in excess of the metabolism of, say, muscles.
The holy grail, the firm said, was an extract that could achieve “weight loss without dieting and exercise”.
Brown fat manipulation is attracting the interest of large and small food and pharma companies as a means to tackle rising rates of obesity and diabetes.
Plasticell chairman Dr Yen Choo told us this morning that two of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical firms were investigating brown fat.
Food and supplement firms are also known to be looking into it.
Commercialisation in a year?
“Our partnership with Pierre Fabre is an open innovation one based on their library and so it may or may not be that we go forward into commercialisation with them,” said Dr Choo.
“Ideally we would like to partner with a food or nutrition firm or a food supplement company. We expect that to happen this year.”
Dr Choo referenced Unilever’s failed €20m investment in the African herbal hoodia gordonii, noting the project sought to promote satiety, something he said was more difficult to achieve and promote than the fat-burning premise of brown fat.
However both Pepsi and Coke have launched fat-burning sodas based on metabolism-raising ingredients like dextrin and green tea extract ECGC to limited success in recent years. Start-ups like Celsius also exist in the space.
“The thing here is that is has been hard to get hold of brown fat to conduct the testing but we have been able to do that with our stem cell technology and characterise it.”
The regulatory route…
If and when a bioactive is located, Plasticell will then be faced with the task of building a dossier and winning a health claim under the EU’s strict laws if it seeks to operate in the 28 EU member states.
“We are aware the regulatory situation has been tightening up and we support that especially coming from a pharma background. We would expect a food and nutrition partner to help us in this area.”
The venture is Plasticell’s first in food and nutrition.
In 2006, Pierre Fabre partnered with Canadian bioresearcher Millenia Hope Biopharma (MHB), to develop botanicals.
Last year it applied for an EU cognitive health claim for an unspecified omega-3 compound.
Brown fat (brown adipose tissue (BAT)) burns lipids to produce bodily heat. White fat is where lipids are stored for energy. There is also beige fat – which is a type of fat in between the two extremes.
“weight loss without dieting and exercise”
Pierre Fabre R&D director Laurent Audoly praised the firms move to open innovation which could “promote new uses of plant extracts in many areas or domains, worldwide. We are confident and will do our best with Plasticell’s team to succeed in this project.”
In a statement Dr Choo added: “Obesity is the leading preventable cause of death, however only a handful of drugs exist to treat this condition - these have at best modest efficacy and potentially serious side effects. We aim to discover safe natural products that act on a newly discovered subtype of adipose tissue to increase the body’s energy expenditure, promoting weight loss without dieting and exercise.”