Kraft Foods Global Thinks Outside the Box with Bioactive Ingredients

Feb. 18, 2009
Kraft hires a pharmaceutical company to help it develop functional foods.

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. Meanwhile, we are happy to take a drug orally to manage or cure a disease.

“We’ve learned that eating over a lifetime has cumulative effects. On the back end, you go from disease intervention with prescription drugs, and on the front end you have health maintenance and prevention. It’s nice to now have an end-to-end view, which is what this technology platform allows you to do. “Many pharmaceutical compounds have their roots in nature, says Land. “Nature is still the most prolific chemist on the planet.”

Medisyn’s core capability

Currently, Medisyn Technologies Inc., founded in 1999, fully owned this technology at the end of 2004, allowing commercialization to kick in. The company is engaged in more than 30 related research projects, 12 in nutraceuticals, and has worked with leading institutions including Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the Dept. of Defense and Invitrogen.

Medisyn’s core capability is to discover novel bioactive compounds. It’s a platform technology and because of that, it can be broadly applied. “That’s why we worked initially in pharmaceuticals, then in nutraceuticals, animal health and even in the aggregate that surrounds protecting crops – herbicides and pesticides – really the life sciences,” explains Land. “We started on the pharmaceutical side because it has some of the greatest needs for deeper research, so from a business perspective it was a logical place to start. Initially focused on treating cancer, Medisyn is currently completing pre-clinical validation of MT103, a promising lead candidate for non-small cell lung cancer, and has an additional 26 anti-cancer compounds in varying stages of development.

Land explains his process is not the standard process used to make nutraceuticals. “Typically, you are dealing with extracts from some other natural source, some other biomass source, and try to analyze what that extract does. That extract has all kinds of compounds. When you are buying something in a food store, whether it’s a supplement or food ingredient that’s been added, it’s usually an extract from a natural source.”

Instead, Medisyn helps in identifying the natural biomass source and can help in characterizing the extract, says Land. “We know that an extract from a natural source will contain multiple individual types of compounds from different chemical families. The great thing about nature is it has the potential for synergy in these extracts. Let’s say there are 30 different compounds – that’s not unusual – and those 30 are known chemical compositions. We can then evaluate which of those 30 compounds is contributing to the bioactivity.”

All of the work Medisyn is doing to come up with that bioactive mathematical template in the first place is based on worldwide research. “We use all the databases out there which correlate chemical compounds with properties,” says Land. “We are learning from the research in pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, and animal health fields – anyplace the research is being done in which chemical compounds and related bioactive properties have been identified. We are taking all the knowledge from pharmaceutical R&D, and leveraging that to reapply in the natural compound space.”

Asked if these products will be considered nutraceuticals, Land points out that nutraceuticals is a very general broad term. “It applies to a compound from natural sources,” he says. “They could be developed into pharmaceuticals or animal health implications. We are focused on the food chain. If these compounds have already been consumed, then they will be generally recognized as safe (GRAS), the key to regulatory approval. If we move outside those known, the regulatory process will take longer. We’ll have to go through preclinical and clinical trials to validate safety.”

“Kraft has been great to work with, everywhere from their executive staff and Todd Abraham through their scientific team,” says Land. “I’m so impressed with the caliber of their team and scientific knowledge and level of their interest. It’s even been a delight to work with their legal staff. I’ve worked with many Fortune 500 companies, and Kraft has been very impressive,” he says enthusiastically.

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