Some of the challenges facing these companies include accurate product formulation, quantification of active ingredients, clinical trials and the navigation of international regulatory processes.
To address these, the Centre of Innovation for Complementary Health Products (COI CHP) was set-up by government body SPRING Singapore and Temasek Polytechnic last year.
The aim was to provide evidence-based innovation and help modernise the supplements and health products industry by leveraging Singapore’s reputation for high standards.
“The standard of testing being conducted in Singapore is very high, and this standard is recognised across different countries,” said Dr Sebastian Ku, head of COI CHP.
“There are some efforts to harmonise regulations among Asean countries, but product registration regulation for different countries varies. For the same product, one country label it as a supplement, in another it be food, and in other countries the same product can be a drug.”
Focusing on testing, analysis and product development support for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), health supplements and functional foods, the centre also has under its wings the Glycaemic Index Research Unit (GIRU).
This is the first Singapore Accreditation Council - Singapore Laboratory Accreditation Scheme (SAC-SINGLAS) accredited facility in Asia to conduct GI testing and research.
Sukhpreet Kaur Habermacher, COI CHP Deputy Head, said research in glycaemic index is also a big focus for the centre.
“We had a lot of companies coming to the lab wanting us to test their products’ capabilities in terms of lowering GI. There are TCM products out there that claims to do that, but had not had a chance to have these sort of tests.”
The centre also partners with Changi General Hospital’s Clinical Trials and Research Unit, and the Singapore Chinese Physician’s Association (SCPA), which plays a vital role as a TCM consultant to the centre.
TCM supplier Eu Yang Sang, a manufacturer that adopts modern and scientific approaches in the production of its TCM products, is also a partner.
Meanwhile a partnership with Techkon Properties ensures that local SMEs have access to genuine herbal ingredients from China.
An area of particular interest has been identifying and testing for antioxidant properties in herbs and supplements, said Dr Ku.
“Beyond looking at the total capacity of antioxidants in the products, we are looking into using high end analytical instruments to really profile the product, to look at individual components that contribute to the products’ antioxidant properties.”
“With a lot of the herbs that we worked with in TCM, functional ingredients and health foods, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of these products are really of interest. So we need the ability to have more in-depth studies on these properties.”
While the centre’s primary clients are SMEs, it also receives industry requests to authenticate herbs from TCM suppliers, devise new delivery formats for existing products, and to assist with novel product formulations and human clinical trials.
Habermacher said there was a lot of interest in TCM globally, but that education and market confidence could be lacking.
Thus, the centre hopes to elevate the level of market confidence for supplements, by providing more evidence-backed scientific data, via its state-of-the-art lab facility.
“It is an industry that is home-grown; we have a lot of local TCM companies here. It would be good to see the level of their analysis go up in that area,” she added.