Turning a new discovery into a commercial product is an exciting (and challenging!) journey, especially for researchers working in the life sciences. Whether you are a new inventor or a technology transfer veteran, listed below you will find information to help you understand how our office works with researchers at the UTHSC, and what UTRF will do to help bring your idea to market.
Vice President, Office of Technology Transfer, UTHSC
It's Not Magic, but Could Assist Healthy Changes
By Sandy Guile
There are weight loss drugs, diet plans and dietary supplements crowding the market these days. "Lose two dress sizes in two weeks!" "Call today and pay only three installments of $19.95 plus shipping and handling." "Order online for pre-cooked, perfectly portioned meals and watch the pounds melt away!"
Late-night infomercials scream from the television, offering quick, easy ways to lose weight, look better, and reach the perfect physique. Radio ads from paid celebrity endorsements drone about how they lost weight and kept it off simply by taking a supplement. National tabloid magazines run half- to full-page ads with enticing before-and-after photos, taunting readers to fill out the coupon and send their hard-earned dollars just to look lithe and limber like their favorite celebrity.
The price of change
All of these methods come with a price—and not just in relation to a dollar amount. In each instance, the user has to completely change, replace, or adjust their eating habits for the dramatic results. The unfortunate part is that the change doesn't last for long.
Are the days of eating right, parking a little farther away from the building, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or drinking a few extra sips of water gone, in exchange for the next wonder drug that will obliterate the obesity problem or reduce the complication of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in America?
One UT researcher cautiously says no.
"The barrage of diet products, supplements, and replacements on the market shows these wonderful dietary results," says Michael Zemel, professor of nutrition and medicine. "They are extraordinary and give the results that people who are struggling with obesity or diabetes want. The trouble is, how realistic are those results and for how long do those results last before old habits start to slip in or the excitement of the diet program wears off?"
According to the Obesity Society, obesity is a leading cause of U.S. mortality, morbidity, disability, health care utilization, and health care costs. These trends, if continued, will more than likely strain the country's health care system with millions of additional cases of diabetes, heart disease, and disability diagnosed each year.
Rather than introduce a pharmaceutical solution or another radical diet program, Zemel has spent the last several years developing and researching Innutria, a metabolic weight loss product made of natural substances that interrupt signals that cause fat cells to make fat and instead helps muscles use that energy to make lean muscle mass. During his research, Zemel also learned the same process worked with inflammatory stress diseases, such as atherosclerosis (i.e., hardening of the arteries caused by fatty deposits), which has a direct affect on cardiovascular health causing heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure. Innutria helps the body leverage its own metabolic process to burn fat and calories at a faster rate, while the individual maintains a reasonable diet and exercise schedule.
Magic bullets and snake oil
"Let me be clear: This is not a magic bullet," says Zemel. "The marketplace is full of snake oil and magic potions, and frankly, the public is tired of hearing these claims that don't have quantifiable results. It's about time a new method was introduced that doesn't cure all of their diet ills but provides assistance in their efforts to lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle."
More importantly, the introduction of Innutria encourages users to adopt healthier habits such as eating balanced meals and exercising regularly—words of wisdom that have not been heeded for the last few years. According to the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, two-thirds of adults and nearly one in three children are overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity in the U.S. more than doubled (from 15 percent to 34 percent) among adults, and more than tripled (from 5 percent to 17 percent) among children and adolescents from 1980 to 2008.
Despite the staggering data, many a couch potato is left to lounge on a bed of excuses not to move around because of the perception of a restricted diet or unreasonable amount of physical activity. Zemel explains it takes an average reduction of 500 calories per day to lose one pound of weight per week. He says that simply taking away those 500 calories per day would lead to what an individual trying to lose weight would think to be a restrictive diet because certain foods or favorite snacks are taken out of the daily meal plan. With the introduction of Innutria, and focusing on smaller, manageable goals with healthier options, Zemel hopes for realistic and long-term positive results by supporting overall good metabolic health and helping people protect themselves against the consequences of obesity and the complications it generally brings.
"This is an approach that you can't mess up," Zemel says. "This method takes where you are (now) and helps you move to a better place by making small changes using sensible choices. The end result is a big difference in weight and overall health. There are no new drugs or chemicals that are introduced into the body's system."
He also stressed the product is not expected to be limited to individuals struggling with weight, cardiovascular, or diabetic issues. He also foresees the product being used by athletes and young adults to maintain their overall metabolic health and physical performance, as it stimulates fat-burning in support of physical exertion.
For the long term, there are potential uses for treating childhood obesity issues that also encourage learning healthy-eating habits. The production of Innutria does not require changes in food production, since it uses natural substances that are found in the foods we already eat.
Research and development is in progress for a series of complimentary products to work in conjunction with Innutria, scheduled for release in 2011 in partnership with yet-unnamed companies. Zemel describes the products as having overlapping results that are being developed in the lab.
In good time
The claims for the Innutria products still in development also have not yet met all of Zemel's criteria for release to the public. There are three phases the product has to pass before officially launching. The first is developing the concept in the lab and understanding the reaction caused on a metabolic level and proving that it, in fact, works. The next phase is a complete set of rigorous, randomized human clinical trials to test the medical claims in a variety of subjects. From the results of the clinical trials, Zemel and his team develop the claim that the product works, based on cellular, molecular and mechanistic studies. He emphasizes that neither he nor his company, Nutraceutical Discoveries, Inc. (NDI), would make a claim that exceeds the data derived from the clinical trials.
"People are ready to hear an honest claim about a product that actually works," he says. "I would be very wary of anyone or any product that claims to be the complete answer. Ours is one that works with the individual who is working to improve their health and lifestyle, not one that does the work for the individual."
The future of Innutria
The short-term-goal, long-term-results effort with this research has the potential to encourage changes in society's behavior and relationship with food. However, Zemel warns it will not result in millions of dollars in savings on health care, but it, at least, will make users feel better about the choices they are making toward a healthier lifestyle. He says the key to the success of Innutria is to reduce inflammatory stress and obesity that will result in physical and human changes in a way that will not require people to completely change their habits or have their lifestyle disrupted. The expectation is to have realistic consumers meet Innutria halfway and work together toward achieving overall metabolic health.
"Think of it in terms of a partnership between us and the consumer to make good, healthy changes," he says.
- For more information, see the Annual Report.