We sat down with advisory board member James Flatt, Ph.D. to discuss new innovations in the nutriceutical industry using enterprise mobile technology. Jim has been involved in the biotech industry for 25 years at prestigious organizations, including Synthetic Genomics Inc., Martek Biosciences, Merck, and Monsanto. As an advisory board member here at Parallel 6, he has helped us grow in the rapidly expanding mobile technology field.
- As a member of the Parallel 6 Advisory Board, how can Clinical Reach impact the nutriceutical industry?
I believe the capabilities associated Clinical Reach can have a big impact in the nutraceutical industry by reducing the cost and improving the targeting of subject populations for clinical studies involving nutritional supplements. Consumers can be left confused about the health benefits of specific nutritional supplements as a result of conflicting results in clinical trials, some of which is attributable to clinical studies involving a subject base too small in number or too diverse in health condition and genetics to discern differences in treatments.
Clinical trials involving nutritional supplements often have very limited budgets, so the challenge becomes how to test the benefits of a specific product on a relatively small subject population. Recruiting costs and perhaps more importantly the cost of recruiting your target subject population. Clinical Reach provides the ability to better target and screen subjects for nutritional supplement clinical trials. Longer-term, Clinical Reach provides the ability for principal investigators to better access digital and data science technologies which will improve targeting of subject candidates. For example, if we are testing nutritional supplements which may improve management of health blood pressure based upon a postulated or known mode of action, we can use information and metadata gathered online from screening questionnaires to more accurately determine whether a patient would be more likely to respond to the nutritional intervention. We know there are genetic-based differences in how different nutrients are metabolized – we can gain insight into whether individuals would more likely fall into one category or another and if that information makes them more or less likely to be a good subject for the clinical study.
- How has mobile technology advanced R&D efforts in the biofuel industry?
The biofuels industry is in its infancy, so most of the industry effort is focused on reducing the cost of converting renewable resources such as sunlight and CO2 or plant material to liquid fuels. Because the energy conversion process involves living, cell-based systems, it is important to constantly monitor the health of cells involved in the energy conversion process. Mobile technologies allow research to not only monitor the course of a specific process trial, but direct changes to the bioprocess conditions based upon the overall health of the cell system or state of the energy. It’s remarkable that we can do this anywhere in the world which has a secure connection to the internet.
- Please describe the consumer focused process for nutritional/supplemental products and how it may differ from patient-centric clinical trials?
One important difference between nutritional supplements and therapeutic clinical trials is the nature of the endpoint, i.e. what question do we want to answer in the clinical study. By law, nutritional supplements cannot claim an ability to mitigate, treat or cure a disease. Nutritional supplements are taken to help maintain a healthy condition (disease prevention) or address a dietary deficit for an essential nutrient, for example Vitamin D. Consumers are looking for not only evidence that nutritional supplements will help them maintain their health, but also a compelling story about how the nutrient may act and benefit their health. Well-designed clinical trials can help provide elements of the storyline.
- Does the nutriceutical industry have a role in precision medicine?
I believe the nutraceutical industry will have a growing importance in precision medicine. We now know that an individual’s genetics can influence the way they respond to specific therapeutic interventions. More generally, we know that an individual’s genetics can influence how nutrients are metabolized. Physicians will be able to use this growing knowledge base to recommend “lifestyle” adjustments to improve the overall health of their patients. In the past, a physician might recommend generally dietary adjustments, e.g. consume less high-fat foods, to patients with a specific condition in addition to a therapeutic regimen. In the future, physicians may recommend much more specific dietary adjustments, e.g. consume more foods or supplements enriched in specific classes of nutrients, based upon the genetic make-up of their patients.
The unsustainable growth in overall health care costs will drive medicine to focus more on maintenance of health and prevention of disease. Nutritional supplements have and will continue to play an important role in maintaining good health, thus, should have a bright future in a world where it will be essential to find the most cost-effective ways to deliver health care. Various studies have established that lifestyle factors, specifically management of weight, absence of tobacco consumption and routine exercise can reduce the risk of major chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer by 60 to 80% or more. If we’re concerned about health economics, we need to be focused on the lifestyle factors. Nutritional supplements provide individuals the ability to meet dietary requirements while properly managing weight.
- What advancements in biotech do you anticipate in the near future?
Genomics, which is the study of the structure and function of genes, will continue to advance. As gene sequencing costs continue to decline, it’s very possible that within a generation or certainly two generations, that a significant fraction of the population will have their genome sequenced. This information will have a growing influence on many decisions that will impact our health and longevity; from foods we consume as a child, to what exercise regimens will provide the greatest benefit, as well as which drugs we are prescribed to treat specific health conditions, we will learn a significant amount about our personal health.
In parallel, I observe an ever-improving ability to rationally engineer cell lines to more economically produce a range of products from beneficial therapeutics, including biologicals, to chemicals and fuels. Timelines and costs of development are shortening, which means biotechnology will have an ever growing impact on healthcare, nutrition and energy.