A Miracle Whip? Kraft Looks to Pharma for Inspiration

Kraft hires a pharmaceutical company to help it develop functional foods.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor, Food Processing Magazine

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New product development is the lifeblood of the food industry, and health and wellness is the mantra. Challenges confronting food manufacturers include investment in R&D during these turbulent times and length of time required to develop healthier products.

Kraft Foods Global Inc. is taking a novel approach by using Minneapolis-based Medisyn Technologies Inc., a drug discovery company, to find bioactive ingredients for food use.

“We’re excited and optimistic about our collaborations with Medisyn because the health and wellness space is a major area of growth in the food industry and for Kraft,” says Todd Abraham, Kraft’s senior vice president of nutrition and research.

Medisyn describes itself as bioactive compound design and discovery company for pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and animal health products. Through its proprietary Forward Engineering technology platform based on molecular topology, Medisyn hopes to streamline the discovery and development process of food ingredients that can be used to provide healthier choices for consumers.

By enabling the discovery and design of novel, diverse and unexpected compounds in new chemical classes that meet exact parameters for a specific therapeutic use, bioactive compound discovery is fast, predictable and inexpensive. Compressing design and discovery time from years to weeks and optimizing lead candidates, Medisyn’s approach enables customers to reduce risk, improve probability of success and control costs associated with the traditional lead discovery process.

“My background is mathematics and chemistry,” explains David Land, president of Medisyn. “Molecular pathology is a mathematically based science, so the simple way to think of it is describing molecules mathematically. Rather than going on a fishing expedition, you create a rational approach by identifying a market need and intelligently working toward fulfilling that need.

“You break need down to the specific properties required and identify compounds with those properties. Then you match those properties back to sources in nature. As a result, you are very focused and can cut the time dramatically. From start to finish -- finish would be a natural compound from a natural source – we are typically talking about 18 months, sometimes shorter,” he says.

To go from scratch to product identification in nine to 18 months is remarkable. “The customer then has to take those natural products through whatever regulatory path is required and further experimentation to validate the efficacy before making a product for the marketplace,” Land adds.

“This is a great example of how Kraft Foods has been making a more focused and organized effort to step up our innovation partnerships,” adds Abraham. “Innovation isn’t new to Kraft, and now we’re complementing our traditional internal efforts and supplier collaborations with new and unique external arrangements. Open innovation is complimenting traditional R&D to allow us to develop new capabilities and better meet consumer needs.”

Medisyn was introduced to Kraft through its business development partner Destum Partners, Charlotte, N.C. Although unable to talk about specific work with Kraft, Land discussed general food industry issues. “When trying to intelligently come up with new food products, trends show opportunities in weight management, diabetes, high cholesterol, osteoporosis and high blood pressure -- the big five. But we’ve also done work in other areas such as mental health – anxiety, dream state, mental focus,” he says.

Land asks a client what the market needs, and “If you could design a product from scratch with the marketing in mind, what would you be going after?” Break that market need down into a product with certain bioactive properties, and figure out what you want it to do from a health benefit. Then build a mathematical bioactive template that incorporates those properties.

“Our task is to identify natural compounds that fit that bioactive template,” Land says.

“In Alzheimer’s, we look for individual compounds that inhibit a certain pair of peptides, a characteristic we built into our template. In osteoporosis, there are a couple of ways nature works inside your body. One is to break down the bones, called resorption, and the other is bone density, or rebuilding bones.” The idea is to come up with natural products that can both slow down the rate of bone resorption and help increase bone density.

“Scientifically, you try to figure out the different mechanistic ways within the body you can address those issues (called mechanisms of action),” he explains. “This gets down to body chemistry to understand the different ways chemicals interact to accomplish specific effects in your body.

“Once we build that template, we come back with some natural compounds, starting with an individual compound that has the bioactivity we are looking for. We start first with compounds we know are active, mapping them back to nature and sourcing nature, whether it comes from a plant or animal. Then, knowing what the bioactive compounds are, you can figure out the best way to harvest those compounds from the biomass.”

Land says if you start with that knowledge, rather than doing various extractions and seeing what happens, it shortens the timeframe.

As for Kraft, “We’re looking for ways get to market more quickly,” says Abraham. “Our open innovation strategy is helping us create new product platforms, reinvent iconic brands, improve features and quickly adapt to the latest consumer trends.”

The active path to market will be determined by Kraft. “Realistically, this is a race to market with products that have a genuine health benefit and science to back them up,” says Land. “It’s somewhat strange over the years that we’ve assumed that food is not closely connected with health; we’ve treated food more like an energy source.

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