Major taxonomy changes could be a ‘wonderful marketing opportunity’ for probiotic firms, say regulatory experts

By Nikki Cutler

- Last updated on GMT

Dr Bruno Pot, Dr Jessica Terhaar, Dr Elisa Salvetti and Dr Elinor McCartney
Dr Bruno Pot, Dr Jessica Terhaar, Dr Elisa Salvetti and Dr Elinor McCartney
Regulatory experts have soothed the concerns of probiotic industry leaders and discussed the 'wonderful marketing opportunity' that will come with the proposed taxonomy update for the ‘Lactobacillus’ genus.

Speaking at the Probiota event in Copenhagen, Dr. Elisa Salvetti, post-doctoral fellow in Food Microbiology at the University of Verona and associate partner at Microbion, explained the reasoning and methodologies behind upcoming changes to the taxonomy of the Lactobacillus ​genus. 

Dr. Salvetti told conference delegates that the genus Lactobacillus​ is too heterogeneous and dividing it into several new genera is the 'inevitable next step'.

She showed delegates the results of her published study from 2018​ which analysed the 237 validly published Lactobacillus​ species and 29 sub species, and showed that the genus could ultimately be split into around 17 novel genera.

Every threat is an opportunity

This is the first time a taxonomy change has been proposed for a species so broad and economically important, but during a panel discussion on the subject delegates of the show were told this update should be taken as an opportunity to boost awareness of specific strains.

Dr. Elinor McCartney, president of Pen & Tec Consulting, pointed out that the public doesn't generally pay any attention to the specific strain names so changes to names are unlikely to cause any concerns amongst the general public.

However, she argues this provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the strains and the health benefits associated with them. 

“Every threat is an opportunity, and this is a wonderful marketing opportunity," ​she said.

"If you look at the marketing and labelling of probiotics at the moment, the names of the specific species are written in very small letters while the brand names and logos get preference. But any changes to names open the opportunity to talk about your particular strain in a legal and good sense," ​she asserted.

Dr. Bruno Pot, science director for Yakult Europe, and a member of the Taxonomic Subcommittee for Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria​ and Related Organisms, agreed adding that new and more detailed classifications could help the industry to see mechanisms and help firms to communicate the benefits of probiotics more easily.

Problem for patents?

On being asked whether patents awarded based on old criteria will still apply after taxonomy changes, Dr. Pot explained the people responsible for changing the names of the strains are professionals and ‘they should be aware of links between patents and strains’. He therefore didn't believe this would be an issue.

He said: “That is the responsibility of the patents office. That’s why we pay them so much money!”

Dr. McCartney reminded delegates that the 19th January 2022 is when trademarks and brand names associated with health claims can no longer be used in the EU unless a proven health benefit can be provided.

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