Established last October, CJ Food and Nutrition Tech (CJ FNT) is a subsidiary of CJ CheilJedang.
The subsidiary signed an exclusive licensing agreement with US biotech firm Emmyon last December, with the goal of launching nutraceutical ingredients that could benefit muscle health – more specifically, inhibiting skeletal muscle atrophy and improving muscle strength and endurance.
Emmyon, on the other hand, was founded by Dr. Christopher Adams, who is the professor of Medicine and research chair of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, Metabolism, and Nutrition at Mayo Clinic.
Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, Paul Kim, chief marketing officer at CJ FNT, pointed out that muscle health was one of the areas that he believes has been overlooked by the nutrition industry.
“We are a young business unit within CJ. The CJ Group has grown into many different areas.
“The company has decided that we want to focus on food and nutrition ingredients and bring more innovation into the business and make sure that we can impact as many people's lives globally as possible.
“When we were looking at the nutrition side of the business, there are a lot of nutrition products out there, but there are certain areas where big gaps still exist.
“One of the areas that we were looking at is the muscle health,” he said.
Furthermore, he believes that problems such as muscle wasting would become a more prominent issue in South Korea especially since the population is ageing rapidly.
Skeletal muscle atrophy, also known as muscle wasting, affects normal activities by reducing an individual’s muscle strength and endurance. It also increases the risk of falls and illnesses.
Some of the causes behind muscle atrophy are ageing, malnutrition, chronic illnesses, and immobilisation including bed rest.
“As a business, we see that this is a big issue, the unfilled health gap is out there, and it is only going to get worse.
“As you all know, the population is ageing, especially in the developed countries, whether it is the US, Europe, or Korea, Japan, and even China…I think this is also going to be a health issue for many governments.
“So, to me, it makes business sense, because it's an important and growing market and also because there is a lack of solutions.”
South Korea is projected to become a super-aged society in two years’ time, when the elderly population reaches 20.6 per cent of the total population, according to Statistics Korea, a government agency under the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
Aside from the ageing population, the company is also seeing opportunities for muscle health nutrition among the healthy population for general muscle health or exercise performance.
What and how?
The functional ingredients are ursolic acid and tomatidine – which are part of Emmyon’s patented portfolio.
Ursolic acid is found in apples and other fruits and herbs such as cranberries and peppermint while tomatidine is found in tomatoes.
Based on Emmyon’s research on muscle health for the past 15 years, the two compounds are found to act on skeletal muscle and inhibit muscle atrophy at the molecular level.
The firm was set up to study the mechanisms and science behind muscle atrophy, as well as the genes and molecules that play a role in maintaining healthy muscles, according to Dr. Adams.
“I see many patients who suffer from muscle atrophy and so I know first-hand that this can be a really devastating problem for a person's health and their quality of life.
“It affects millions of people. You see muscle wasting when people become older, when they become injured or encounter any sort of serious chronic illnesses or critical illnesses.
“It’s a very huge problem with major impact on people around the world,” he said.
Recounting the research process, he said the firm performed muscle biopsy from both healthy individuals and those with muscle atrophy and then performed genomic screens to identify the genes that were turned on and off during muscle atrophy.
“We know that when a muscle undergoes atrophy, certain genes within the muscle get turned on and certain genes get turned off and most genes aren’t affected.
“When the genes get turned on, the amount of messenger RNA produced by that gene increases and vice versa.”
The mRNAs that are turned on in individuals with muscle atrophy are in turn translated into proteins that cause muscle loss and weakness.
At the same time, the genes that are turned off in individuals with muscle atrophy are the ones that are important for maintaining healthy muscles.
After performing the genomic screens, the firm went on to identify the compounds that could affect cellular gene expression in human cell lines.
“We looked for compounds that do the opposite of muscle atrophy based on the changes seen in gene expression.
“In doing so, we found some compounds, most notably ursolic acid that increases muscle quality, muscle strength, muscle mass, and endurance exercise capacity,” Dr. Adams added.
Writing in Cell Metabolism, Dr. Adams and his team concluded that ursolic acid could reduce muscle atrophy and stimulate muscle hypertrophy in mice.
This was achieved by enhancing skeletal muscle insulin / IGF-I signalling and inhibiting atrophy-associated skeletal muscle mRNA expression.
Ursolic acid’s effects on the muscle were also accompanied by reductions in adiposity, fasting blood glucose, and plasma cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Kim added that the beauty of Emmyon’s discovery was that it looked into the potential of natural extracts, beyond the typical protein or branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplementation for supporting muscle health.
Consumer products containing the natural extracts are expected to be launched in Q1 of year 2024, said Kim.
“We will be working with the global CPG (consumed packaged goods) companies to launch the consumer products.”
At the moment, the companies are exploring the dosage formats in which the ingredients could be used in, including capsules, tablets, gummies, and softgels.