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October 07, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

Canadians are increasingly adding smart choices to their grocery carts such as calcium-enriched fruit juice, vitamin supplements and cereals with added fibre. The global market for healthy foods and natural health products is estimated at $150 billion, and many Western Canadian companies are joining the boom. In the Saskatoon area alone, about 30 companies jostle for market share, generating revenues of nearly $60 million.

But most start-ups falter in the early stages of commercialization, with as few as five percent surviving their first five years. The reason, according to companies themselves, is a deficiency of expertise in areas such as marketing, management, technology assessment, financing and strategies for navigating the regulatory jungle.

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The BioAccess Commercialization Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was launched by NRC's Plants for Health and Wellness technology cluster initiative to give companies in the nutraceutical, functional food and natural health product industries a healthy start on the path to commercialization.

The Centre offers five programs that cover everything from finding your business "soul mate" (BioConnect) to delivering a winning pitch to potential investors (BioPitch). An online diagnostic tool, called BioMap, assesses a company based on four "pillars" – technical, regulatory, market and business – then delivers a "you-are-here" snapshot with guidance for each stage of product development. Another program, called BioIntel, connects firms with experts in competitive intelligence gathering, while BioData provides research, marketing and regulatory information.

"Our line-up of programs was developed in light of discussions with small and medium-sized companies to identify the most challenging barriers to growth and survival in this sector," says Dr. Wilf Keller, Acting Director General of the NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute. "For every company that doesn't survive, Canada loses an opportunity to increase its presence in a growing sector, and Canadians miss out on the potential health benefits of these innovative new products."

What are functional foods?

Functional foods are foods consumed as part of a usual diet that have a known health benefit and/or reduce the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional functions (e.g. calcium-enriched fruit juice).

What are nutraceuticals?

Nutraceuticals are products isolated or purified from foods that have a known health benefit or provide protection against chronic disease (e.g. omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, carotene).

What are natural health products?

Natural health products include vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic medicines, traditional medicines, probiotics, and products like amino acids and essential fatty acids. They are available without a prescription and include nutraceuticals.

Today's healthy foods and natural health products hold the promise of everything from improved nutrition to protection against chronic disease. Brent Banda, President of Banda Marketing Group in Saskatoon, is working to commercialize a food bar that helps to treat conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insulin resistance, all of which are risk factors for diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

The BioMap analysis told Banda that while his company was well ahead in the market and business pillars, he hadn't yet answered key questions about regulation and technology. "We were working through those issues, but we didn't know what questions to ask," says Banda. "It really put the brakes on for us, and told us that we needed to address regulation and technology before we moved forward."

The analysis also helped Banda to make a critical choice about how to market his product. "Based on information that we gathered working through the regulatory aspect of BioMap, we made a strategic decision to develop a functional food product rather than a natural health product," he says.

Keeping companies on track throughout the commercialization process is one of the Centre's primary goals, according to Executive Director Marlin Stangeland. "The idea is that commercialization is a staged process... you should be working on all four pillars – technical, regulatory, market and business – at the same time," he says.

Stangeland adds that regulation – one of the biggest hurdles for health-related products – is an area where BioAccess offers industry-specific expertise. "In this industry in particular, you must have scientific evidence backing your product in order to claim that it has a health benefit," he says. "The BioAccess Commercialization Centre can help companies ensure that their technology platform will have the scientific rigour to meet the regulations in the marketplace – regulations that may not even exist yet."

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National Research Council of Canada

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