OPINION: Pharma moving into nutra — is it a natural fit?

By Amit Srivastava

- Last updated on GMT

Pharma firms are increasingly eyeing the nutra space. ©iStock
Pharma firms are increasingly eyeing the nutra space. ©iStock
Pharmaceutical companies are showing increasing interest in the nutraceutical industry, believing it is a natural fit with their core businesses. But Responsible Nutrition Association of India founder Amit Srivastava wonders if this is a match made in heaven.

The pharmaceutical industry looks at nutrition as its next big opportunity and it feels comfortable leveraging its existing strengths such as extensive research capabilities, experience in clinical trials and its close relationships with medical practitioners to help drive uptake.

It can also apply its huge scientific database to create complementary nutritional solutions in tandem with its drugs to enhance medical outcomes in patient groups. 

Amit Srivastava

For instance blending Ginsensoside with MCT oil and protein isolates substantially increases the patient’s capability to cope up with chemotherapy, leading to remarkable reductions in cellular fatigue.

At the same time, there are potential hurdles for pharmaceutical industry to take heed of. These hurdles can derail the attempt in the big nutrition rush and include internal difficulties.

Medical, legal and regulatory reviewers within pharma tend to be conservative due to stringent legal controls by governments. It cannot be expected of them to think differently with nutrition. 

 Stringent standards

Also, quality control teams in the pharmaceutical industry are used to the very stringent standards of USFDA. Expecting them to clear a contract manufacturing facility for nutrition can be a tough task. Rules and quality expectations are different in nutrition industry.

Then there is the issue of access and speed. Food giants like Nestlé, Danone, PepsicC have recognised the potential for nutraceuticals in their own portfolios. They have the infrastructure and resources to roll out research and development capabilities. They are already attending medical conferences and have set up a separate team to cater to medical community.

Additionally, they have good access to consumers and have strengths to churn out multiple nutrition products in innovative formats and packaging at short time periods. These companies pose a big challenge to pharma industry that is not used to churning out products in small time periods.

Another factor to consider is delivery formats. Dosage formats outside pharmaceutical favourites (like capsules, tablets, powders, etc) are tough for pharmaceutical companies to envision. It’s an unknown territory. Also, nutrition products need to be taken for long time to achieve the desired medical outcome. This requires going beyond regular formats into the routine and habits of patient groups.

Online audience

For pharmaceutical companies to cope with this newly found excitement in nutrition, they would need to make alterations in their conventional approach to business. Some key areas for thought are the need to branch out of the medical arena and target the online audience and health and fitness trainers, while also building consumer behaviour insights and analytics capability.

They must also think beyond tablets and capsules and develop formats that are appealing and fit into the consumers routine and habits rather than offer a solution that’s outside of habits or routines.

Pharma firms would also have to build a separate key task team of regulatory and quality control that’s in line with nutrition requirements and, I would argue, to invest and collaborate with nutraceutical start-ups and embrace their expertise.

Amit Srivastava is the founder of the Responsible Nutrition Association of India and CEO of India's first plug and play nutraceutical hub, BioValley


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