Recent decades have witnessed much criss-crossing between the food and pharmaceutical industries. Nestle SA on Jan. 1 placed a very big bet on a nutraceutical future with the creation of a Nestlé Health Science business unit. Much of how the Switzerland-based multinational will "pioneer a new industry between food and pharma" will be pieced together by a trusted insider, Luis Cantarell, the inaugural president/CEO of Nestlé Health Science.
"This is an exciting new business opportunity, the execution of which will have a positive long-term impact on peoples' lives," says Cantarell.
"Personalized health science nutrition will create shared value, both for Nestlé and for society, by successfully preventing, improving and treating acute and chronic medical conditions. I am looking forward to getting this ground-breaking work under way."
Born in Barcelona, Spain, and described as charismatic, Cantarell is a graduate of Barcelona University in economic sciences, and he speaks five languages -- Spanish, French, English, Portuguese and Catalan. He joined the company in 1976, working in the information systems unit at Nestlé Spain. He helped create Nestle's Nutrition Strategic Business Division in 2001; 2005-2008 he was executive vice president of Nestle's Europe operations; since 2008 he had been executive vice president responsible for the Americas zone.
Along with the semi-separate Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences, Nestlé Health Science will use nutrition to prevent and treat conditions such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's disease, all of which "place an unsustainable burden on the world's healthcare systems," the company says. One product already on the market is Nestlé's Clinutren, a range of supplements that can be added to soups, desserts or drinks, that can help cancer patients gain weight or prevent weight loss.
Cantarell and the new business are not starting from zero. Nestle's HealthCare Nutrition business – much of which was bought in 2007 from Novartis AG for $2.5 billion -- will be folded in and already has sales of CHF 1.6 billion (nearly $1.7 billion). But the new company will be run at arm's length from Nestlé's main food, beverages and nutrition activities. It also will have access to external scientific and technological know-how through Nestlé's innovation network as well as a number of venture capital funds in which the group has interests.
Nestlé first entered healthcare nutrition in 1986. Over the past three years, it has made a number of strategic acquisitions – Vitaflo, in addition to Novartis Medical Nutrition. Some observers expect Nestlé to make more acquisitions, "with Abbott Laboratories widely named as a target," according to the Financial Times.
"The combination of health economics, changing demographics and advances in health science show that our existing healthcare systems, which focus on treating sick people, are not sustainable and need redesigning," said Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe when the announcement was made. "Nestlé has the expertise, the science, the resources and the organization to play a major role in seeking alternative solutions. Personalized health science nutrition is about finding efficient and cost effective ways to prevent and treat acute and chronic diseases in the 21st century."