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Pharma-nutra divisions narrow as CPhI exhibitors recognize cross-industry applications

November 14, 2021
Life sciences

The gaps between the nutraceutical and pharmaceutical spaces are diminishing as companies continue to maximize the market potential for their ingredients. However, key regulatory differences mean that the nutrition industry faces challenges around communicating ingredient benefits.

At CPhI Worldwide 2021, held in Milan, Italy, experts from Lonza, Omya, Brenntag and ADM speak to NutritionInsight about the cross-industry inspiration both sides can seek.

“In the last five years, pharmaceutical companies like Merck, Sanofi, Bayer and GSK are all becoming more active in healthcare or consumer health,” says Dr. Javier Camargo, global business development manager pharma at Omya.

Even within “big pharma blockbusters,” not everyone has a good pipeline, adds Joris Dewit, business development director of EMEA consumer health and nutrition in Lonza’s Capsugel.

“To increase the sales and to use their sales network more efficiently, they combine nutraceuticals with a pharmaceutical approach,” he explains.

Enabling a holistic approach
One appealing aspect of combining pharmaceutical and nutraceutical philosophies is providing a holistic approach.

“Consumers are increasingly aware of which products are appropriate for their needs. They rely on pharmaceutical companies for drugs, but they also want to complete that with some personalized nutrition solutions,” explains Marie-Bénédicte Charpentier, director of marketing and growth and EMEAI marketing coordinator of ADM Nutrition.

Another example is that many of Lonza’s customers have a pharmaceutical product for osteoarthritis, which is curative.

“However, they can combine it with a food supplement that is preventive to have a full-spectrum approach. This whole package can be offered to medical practitioners to address everything from preventing the disease to having the cure,” says Dewit.

He also sees that the pharmaceutical space, in general, is shifting more to prevention rather than only being curative.

“You also see a lot of companies like Nestlé having a health department because they know that this is also complementary to the food sector,” adds Charpentier.

A bidirectional shift?
Dewit asserts that the shift is “definitely” from pharmaceutical to nutraceutical.

“The other way around is extremely rare as the boundaries to enter into pharmaceuticals are very high. You need to build your dossier and have lots of investments,” he continues. “In contrast, the boundary to enter nutraceuticals is very low.”

YuGyong Chung, Brenntag’s head of innovation and technology pharma EMEA, also sees increasing numbers of pharmaceutical producers are stepping into nutraceuticals. She points out that many companies are simply making use of the same technology they already have.

“A tablet is a tablet, a syrup is a syrup and a capsule is a capsule. If companies have already done their due diligence on product quality, why shouldn’t they also produce a supplement?” she highlights.

Chung continues that targeting the nutraceutical realm offers further commercial benefits due to speed-to-market. In contrast to pharmaceuticals – which can take up to a decade to be greenlit – nutraceuticals can often be launched in a more timely fashion.

Marketing lessons from pharma
However, Antonio Martínez Descalzo, vice president of biotics product and technology platform at ADM Biopolis, argues that the convergence is also happening in the direction from nutraceuticals to pharmaceuticals. Recent examples of this include Pharmactive and Aker Biomarine.

Specifically, some nutraceutical companies are becoming more pharma-like in terms of marketing. “You need to educate consumers, key opinion leaders and practitioners, for example,” he explains.

An example of this is Lonza’s UC-II collagen, which Dewit says hits the “sweet spot” between nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals.

“It has clinical evidence but it’s still a food supplement. However, it appeals to pharmaceutical companies because we talk in the language they understand and consumers can receive it via doctors and pharmacies.”

Communication challenges
However, dietary supplements are much more limited in terms of the claims they are able to make.

“You can incorporate ingredients that have clinical efficacy, but you don’t necessarily have the ability to inform the consumer about it,” explains Charpentier.

Avenues of communication to the consumer are also different. With pharmaceuticals, doctors make prescriptions and explain them to patients.

“With supplements, you can go to the pharmacist and ask for advice, but ultimately, you want to make your own choice. This is difficult as businesses can’t write a lot on packages,” she continues.

Differences remain
Many nutritional products seem – at least from the outside – to be similar to an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), says Christoph Conrad, head of industry market management APIs and supplements for Brenntag’s EMEA pharma section. “Some companies make their nutraceuticals seem as pharmaceutical as possible.”

However, regulation means that nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals continue to be “two different stories.” Conrad emphasizes that APIs cannot be used as supplements and that pharma quality is simply not necessary for supplements.

“There’s so much time, effort and money involved to produce drugs,” he notes.

A gradient of needs
Looking ahead, Camargo anticipates that there will be even more convergence from both sides, especially as pharmaceutical companies look to embrace a more natural approach.

“There will always be a separation, but it’s like a gradient of needs. There’s a clear convergence in players but not in markets due to regulation,” summarizes Descalzo.

CPhI was also the venue for Faravelli to announce its Deltapharma acquisition, which will strengthen its pharmaceutical offerings, as well as having synergies for nutraceuticals.

Another key theme at the show was the growing trend to source locally across the EU, especially as the effects of the supply chain crisis hit nutrition companies.

By Katherine Durrell, reporting from CpHI Worldwide 2021 in Milan


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