Beyond label claims: Clinical trial findings paramount to meet consumers’ knowledge needs – Immunity Broadcast panel

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

The first broadcast of the NutraIngredients Immunity Series APAC edition shone the spotlighted on "Immunity and Clinical Trials/ Emerging Research". ©Getty Images
The first broadcast of the NutraIngredients Immunity Series APAC edition shone the spotlighted on "Immunity and Clinical Trials/ Emerging Research". ©Getty Images

Related tags Immunity Clinical trials Research

Clinical trial findings are becoming ever more important in today’s world as consumers are looking beyond label claims and are actively reading up on the health benefits and evidence of ingredients used in immunity products, according to an expert panel.

The panel discussed the topic “Immunity and Clinical Trials/ Emerging Research” during the first broadcast of the NutraIngredients Immunity Interactive Broadcast Series from APAC. (Listen on demand here​)

Industry experts involved in the discussion included Dr Amanda Rao, founder and principal investigator at RDC Clinical, Dr Daisuke Fujiwara, deputy GM of the Health Science Department at major MNC Kirin, Dr Samuel JK Abraham, head of R&D at GN Corporation (Japan), Dr Rajen Manicka, CEO of ASX-listed biotech firm Holista Colltech, and Dr Priyali Shah, lead scientist at Tata NQ.

The panel discussion was hosted by Gary Scattergood, the editor-in-chief of NutraIngredients-Asia.

A key point brought up during the discussion was that consumers are looking beyond health claims on the product labels and are actively searching for information on the ingredient used, which is especially so amid the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think there are two sets of consumers today, one is a very discerning, educated, and rich customer, who is going to spend on supplements but will be very careful in terms of how much there is in terms of clinical support.

“And with google and social media today, it is not that difficult to cross check claims made by companies versus an actual clinical situation.

“The only problem we have here is, maybe the regulator is not fast enough in terms of marrying the evidence, the science, and the claims,”​ Dr Manicka pointed out.

He gave an example seen from Pristin, the company’s omega-3 supplement brand​, also the market leader in Malaysia.

He said that sales of the omega-3 products have picked up, and from consumer surveys, the company found that “consumers are googling [and found information] that shows patients with high level of omega-3 are surviving covid-19 better​.”

This shows that consumers are looking beyond label claims and are actively searching for relevant scientific information online, which makes clinical trial findings ever more important.

Research direction

When it comes to clinical trial research direction, Dr Rao pointed out that the trend today has been to find out how the baseline nutrition status would affect consumers’ response to a treatment.

This is again, largely driven by the current pandemic.

“One of the interesting things that I found is there is a lot of research done on baseline nutrition status and how it will respond to a treatment, how long we will be sick for, how well the COVID-19 vaccination will work,”​ she said.

In addition, researchers are looking at other areas linked to immune health, such as the effects of sleep and lifestyle habits on the immune system.   

She urged companies to planned in advance, taking care of the research methodology, target population, and sending the results for peer review, as these are hallmarks of good quality trials.

On the other hand, many non-COVID-19 related trials have been sidelined and delayed in the past year.

In this case, companies could adopt digital strategies to minimise interruption, although she also acknowledged that not everything could be collected online, such as blood samples.

“I think participants preferred doing things digitally, but we need face-to-face arrangements for certain things, such as taking blood samples and when conducting exercise tests,” ​she said.

Hot ingredients

Pre/probiotics, beta-glucan, and botanicals and some of the main ingredients that have garnered research attention, the panel pointed out.

In the case of Kirin, the Japanese brewery giant has its own lactic acid bacteria supplement brand iMuse, with products cutting across supplements, beverages, and yogurts.

The products contain the company’s proprietary Lactococcus lactis ​strain Plasma.

Just last year, six of its products were approved for making the immune health claim under the Food with Function Claims scheme​, the first of such cases in Japan.

Lactococcus lactis ​strain Plasma worked by stimulating the plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC), which are the commander-in-chief of the immune system, Dr Fujiwara explained during his presentation.

Aside from immunity, the ingredient also showed evidence for supporting the immune system after strenuous sports, work performance and healthy ageing.

“When we first started, it was impossible to activate pDC.

“So we test more varieties of lactic acid bacteria species and collected species from all over the world to see which one could lead to pDC activation,”​ he said, on the company’s discovery of Lactococcus lactis ​strain Plasma.

Tata NQ is also focusing on the research behind pre/probiotics and botanicals.

“When we look at the aspects around immunity, pre/probiotics are some of the driving forces, along with the natural and plant extract,”​ Dr Shah said.

The company’s prebiotics and dietary fibres in its portfolio include fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) trademarked FOSSENCE and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) trademarked GOSSENCE.

The company has conducted studies on how the proprietary compositions of botanicals and FOS or GOS could be beneficial for the immune health.

One example is a study on the combination of green tea extract, curcumin, and FOS, which showed they could work synergistically to improve immune health.

“There is a possibility that there could be combinations which can help in the improvement of the gut microbiome. In previous studies, we have also shown that a healthy gut is linked to the immune system.”

In terms of product application, the prebiotics could be made into breads, cakes, cookies, dairy formats, Ankur Bhamu, heads of sales and business development at Tata NQ said.

The prebiotics could also be combined with natural extracts such as liquorice and ashwagandha.

For example, the company has formulated a herbal immunity boost syrup which contains ashwagandha, tulsi, ginger, FOSSENCE, and sugar syrup.

As for GN Corporation, the company’s beta-glucan supplement, known as Nichi Glucan, was clinically studied as an adjunct treatment for COVID-19 in India.

Nichi Glucan is derived from the black yeast Aureobasidium, ​which contains beta-D-glucans and are active compounds found in the cell walls of yeast, fungi, and seaweed.

According to Dr Abraham, the company has conducted three studies on using Nichi Glucan as an adjunct treatment for COVID-19, involving healthy young people and cancer patients.

“This Nichi Glucan that we are studying can control chronic micro-inflammation and we are trying to find out the key mechanisms,” ​he said.  

The series continues across the next three weeks, with forthcoming editions on immunity and botanicals on May 11 and immunity and the microbiome on May 18. Register for free here.

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