Transforming NPD: Systems-based innovation and research needs industry-wide acceptance

Integrative, systems-based approaches need to be adopted by the whole food industry, say researchers.

Innovative systems-based models of NPD must be adopted by small and large players alike if the nutrition industry is to have success in developing functional foods that are backed by health claims, say researchers.

According to the new paper, systems-based approaches have the potential to provide added value to the existing standards in functional food research for the whole industry by enabling the food industry to support substantiation of health claims for their innovative functional products and to reduce the time and cost of risky decisions associated with clinical trials.

Published in Trends in Food Science & Technology, the review suggests that adopting lessons that have been learned from the pharmaceutical industry by food and beverage businesses “can accelerate their evolution in a reasonable pace with the ultimate aim of going beyond food fortification and making food functional.”

“Although the systems biology strategy proposed here is still evolving in the nutraceutical industry, it is already contributing to meaningful decisions in drug discovery business by providing rapid characterization and interpretation of disease-relevant responses,” said the team - led by Erfan Younesi from the Fraunhofer Institute for Algorithms and Scientific Computing SCAI, Germany. 

“This evolution has already been underway in larger companies but needs to be adopted by other manufacturers intending to develop functional products.”

As a consequence, the researchers suggest that the food and beverage industry is facing a situation in which they must quickly adapt to new market demands and regulatory updates and be prepared to make expensive and risky decisions as to whether proceed with significant investments on development of functional products, all the way from the basic research to conducting clinical trials.

“To accurately meet the current level of stringent regulations for functional products, the food industry needs to tackle this problem through integrative approaches,” they said. “Multidisciplinary integration of complex biological knowledge relevant to human health and disease into the functional product development process not only can increase the capacity of innovative product development but also can support informed decision-making.”

Challenges and opportunities 

Younesi and his team said that tackling the complex biology of human chronic diseases - which has been the focus of the pharmaceutical industry for many years - poses a new challenge to the food industry if safety and efficacy of the functional food products are to be shown.

“The pressure on food manufacturers is increasing to cope with stringent regulatory demands required for substantiation of health claims for functional products,” noted the team. “Currently efforts are underway to set best practice guidelines for health claim dossiers in Europe, for example through the EU funded BACCHUS project, which is specifically funded to provide good quality evidence for health claims on polyphenols, bioactive peptides and cardiovascular outcomes.”

In contrast to these challenges, however, significant opportunities for the food industry emerge that ‘can not be ignored,’ they said – noting that disease prevention through healthy nutrition is a priority on the political agenda of many countries and this is a clear opportunity for the food industry to claim more market share than the pharmaceutical industry in this area. 

“Food and beverage companies that seek to enter the market of functional foods for health and wellness recognize the need for investment in new research and development (R&D) competencies,” they said.

Research shift

The team noted that the food industry has been traditionally regarded as a sector with low R&D-to-research ratio and little innovation.

“But, with the introduction of high-throughput technologies – primarily nutrigenomics – to food research, the situation has changed and now the grand challenge is integration of findings across multiple research disciplines in food science,” said the team.

For instance, the team noted that food giant Nestlé has established its own Institute of Health Sciences in 2011 - with focus on ‘integrated systems science.’ 

“However, most of food and beverage companies – particularly small and middle size manufacturers-need R&D strategies that can support substantiation of health claims associated to bioactive ingredients in an integrative manner,” wrote the team.

For example, they suggest that the knowledge management and systems modelling technologies, which have been extensively used – in an integrated manner – across all levels of pharmaceutical production pipeline, could play a similar role in support of knowledge generation for development of new functional food products.

“This knowledge gap implies that the food industry should quicken the pace to take up and integrate systems-based technologies into their production pipeline,” wrote Younesi and colleagues. “Accordingly, we propose a strategy based upon which systems biology advancements in the pharmaceutical industry can be adapted for supporting health claims in the functional food sector.” 

Source: Trends in Food Science & Technology
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.tifs.2014.09.006
“An integrated systems-based model for substantiation of health claims in functional food development”
Authors:Erfan Younesi, Mehmet Turan Ayseli

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