The ‘agreement in principal’ with the university will see 100 patients with type 2 diabetes take part in a six-month clinical trial on the impact of the company's green tea extract Phytofare on insulin regulation.
Set to begin in November this year, the trials will take place in Mauritius, an island off the southeast coast of Africa where rates of type 2 diabetes are among the highest in the world at 16.28%, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The study will follow a 2009 review backed by nutrition giant DSM, which called for long-term human trials into the potential anti-obesity, anti-diabetic and cardio-protective effects of green tea catechins.
Director and vice president of the London-headquartered company, Callum Cottrell-Duffield, told us the upcoming investigation could be a “game changer” for the sector and said if results were positive a health claim application could be on the cards.
He said the company founded by his father about 15 years ago had invested about $30m (€26.56m) all in all in renovation of a tea plantation and factory in South Africa and research into the extract.
Global rates of diabetes have almost quadrupled since 1980 to reach 422 million, according to the WHO.
In 2012 alone the condition caused 1.5 million deaths.
A large part of this came from a 2013 loan from the Land and Agricultural Development Bank of South Africa.
Obesity, and its related diseases, has been pinpointed as one of the most critical public health issues facing Africa today, with levels in countries like Kenya and South Africa particularly alarming.
The WHO expects childhood overweight and obesity prevalence in Africa to reach 12.7% in 2020, up from 8.5% in 2010.
In response the South African Department of Health has set targets to reduce the number of people who are obese or overweight in the country by 10% by 2020.
As part of this push, the African Centre for Obesity Prevention (ACTION) was set up last year as a hub of obesity information and research in Africa.
Cottrell-Duffield said given this burgeoning threat of obesity in Africa, it was a double win for the government if potential “aids in the fight” against diabetes were grown on African soil while regenerating land and creating jobs.
“There’s a definite push from the political side to ‘aid their voters’. Politicians in South Africa don’t do anything for nothing,” he said.
Plandaí claims its Phytofare has ten times higher levels of catechins than other green tea extracts.
Cottrell-Duffield said this was down the freshness of the extract, which was normally processed within three hours of the tea being picked.
“Everybody knows about the benefits of green tea. But it’s about saying to people: ‘Listen, you’re currently driving a Ford Fiesta, but you can have a Lamborghini for the same price.’”
Future products in the pipeline for the company included a horny goat weed extract for erectile dysfunction, a tomato lycopene extract for prostate health and a citrus extract for muscle recovery.
Each would be supported by studies, he said.
“Our main ethos is whatever product we bring to the market will not be without human clinical trials,” said Cottrell-Duffield.
“There would be no point making the investment we have without backing that with science.”