ChromaDex: How High Tech Creates a Nutrition Leader of Tomorrow

What does a food ingredient company has in common with the high technology? In short, the answer is everything. Few weeks ago, we ventured out to see a company out of Irvine, CA that started to raise waves over the next generation of its products. The first wave came from a U.S. National Institutes of Health sanctioned human study, where it was found that one of company’s products has beneficial influence over the key aspects of human health. Thus, unlike numerous unverified products or ingredients on the market – this substance has a shot of becoming a real stellar success.

ChromaDex Headquarters in Irvine, CA
ChromaDex Headquarters in Irvine, CA

Naturally, we got interested to see what the magic ingredient is, and did it have any relation to recent technology breakthroughs which are slowly coming to limelight, such as the holy grain of medicine, universal cancer / tumor vaccine. Now, regardless of are we talking about vaccines, finding a solution to obesity, cholesterol or blood pressure, it is imperative to find the cleanest ingredients possible, and this is where ChromaDex comes in.

When a Lab goes Commercial
ChromaDex Inc. is consisted out of two business units, the company headquarters in Irvine, California and Laboratory / Research facility in Boulder, Colorado. The company was founded in 1999 by Frank L. Jaksch Jr., and went public in what was probably the toughest time for anyone (2008). The company was founded in a bid to research, create and produce the materials used in food and health manufacturing. The laboratory works with all the major universities in the United States and abroad, and is considered as one of the, if not the leading facility for synthesizing materials used in food and medical research.

ChromaDex Research Facility in Boulder, CO
ChromaDex Research Facility in Boulder, CO

Beside cooperation with universities, the company also works with leading food manufacturers who rely on them for research and supply of food supplements such as synthesized vitamins for medical and commercial purposes. If you purchased a high-end protein powder, took a vitamin pill, had an energy or a chocolate bar etc, chances are ChromaDex ingredients were inside of those. But sometimes, you’re too small of a player when you encounter something truly big.

The Stevia Opportunity: Too Early?
During our conversation with Frank L. Jaksch Jr., a name of interesting supplement popped up. Over half a decade ago, ChromaDex was in the process of going public while researchers at the Boulder facility were finalizing a new, massively producible type of sweetener. The sweetener was based on one of the Stevia plants, part of traditional sweeteners in use in the Latin America and Asia. Unlike chemical substances like Aspartame, which are widely used in soft drinks worldwide, Stevia is a family of plants. According to Wikipedia, the Stevia family of plants typically contains 35-40 more sweetness than regular cane-derived table sugar. From the wide usage in Asia and South America, this sweetener doesn’t carry as much as potentially negative elements as Aspartame, which causes a lot of controversy to this date.

Triple Quad Mass Spectrum Analyzer in Boulder, CO
Triple Quad Mass Spectrum Analyzer in Boulder, CO

The result of their research was massively produced sweetener simply named Stevia. This sweetener attracted a lot of attention in the food processing industry and it wasn’t long before leading players such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo etc., joined the frame. However, in order to produce the sweetener in sufficient quantities, the company needed to build a $50 million manufacturing facility. Even with all the assurances that ChromaDex could produce the quantities needed for industry giants, bigger players joined the frame and secured financial resources to build the manufacturing facilities in question. Learning on this experience, ChromaDex went on to secure investment and advice of American entrepreneur Phillip Frost, who remains the single largest individual shareholder.

Present: pTeroPure & the U.S. NIH Study
Learning from the Stevia experience, ChromaDex continued to work hard with universities on creating the next mass producible substance, with the ultimate goal being to manufacture the content on their own. The company continuously made investments in its research facilities, and as the pTeroPure went one step forward, ChromaDex secured manufacturing capacity as well.

PTeroPure is a brand for a phytoalexin, a substance originally found in blueberries. ChromaDex started work on pTeroPure in 2003, by starting a joint development with USDA, initiating a four year trial in 2008 with US National Institutes of Health and finally proving that the substance actually influences humans in a positive manner.

Just like Stevia research, ChromaDex relied on its internal combination of science and technology to reach the producible levels, ranging from regular percentage found in blueberries, to highly concentrated substance (used in medical treatments, such as non-melanoma skin cancer), lowering cholesterol levels etc.

ChromaDex Investor Presentation Slide

This time around, ChromaDex patented the manufacturing proc
ess and selected an exclusive manufacturing partner. Besides manufacturing, they also signed distribution deal. Should things go well, pTeroPure will find its way to public and currently non-public product lines from companies such as Herbalife or within the upcoming health-focused lines of products from Kraft and Nestle.

From the conversation, we believe that a new tone is becoming more louder in the food industry, and that is health foods – with manufacturers of current sugary drinks are focusing on healthy nutrition, with Coca Cola launching a line of healthy products in France and EMEA, PepsiCo planning on beautification and healthy beverages in US etc. Same thing is with KRAFT Foods, who are planning to expand their healthy brands and launch a few new ones.

Future: ProC3G, AnthoPure and Nicotinamide Riboside – Bye Bye to Diabetes, Obesity?
With the large list of clients such as Herbalife and NBTY in health, Pfizer in Medical and KRAFT and Nestle in the food industry, the company covers a wide-range of industries where their products can be deployed. However, pTeroPure is just one of several lines of development. With Pterostilbene being pushed towards commercialization, R&D effort is shifting towards bringing new ingredients such as Anthocyanins and Nicotinamide Riboside. The first family of ingredients already has commercial name, under the brands ProC3G and AnthoPure. These two are targeting weight loss medication, fighting diabetes and attack the aging process.

Just like pTeroPure, the next generation of products is being extracted from the fruits and vegetables – cyadin-3-glucoside (C3G) gives that deep purple color to berries and black rice. The product of this research, ProC3G is currently in several varying stages of development – but just like pTeroPure, the company wants to make sure to be solid enough not to repeat the big breakthrough that others enjoyed. ProC3G is currently selling as a black rice extract but there are efforts to synthesize it in order to achieve mass production. AnthoPure is currently under development and the company management was coy about it – they believe in getting research studies done before making any promises.

Analytical Lab

In a way, we believe that the company is downplaying the advantages of their research approach, since every American is constantly bombarded with ads promising this and that, all carrying that nice disclaimer "These statements are in no way confirmed or endorsed by the FDA". ChromaDex belongs to the other side of the fence – research first, marketing later. While we believe the company will have to become more aggressive in advertising its advantages, finding the right balance will pose a tall order for the company.

Fourth supplement is in early development, and tags along nicely to the pTeroPure and ProC3G. The Nicotinamide Riboside (NR) is a compound found in beer and milk and before you ask, it has nothing to do with regular nicotine. NR is considered as a critical compound that enables your cells to convert fuel into energy. ChromaDex views this part as the next-generation Niacin (Vitamin B3) and plans to pitch it to multi-vitamins, energy drinks, meal replacement powders and various food and beverage products.

NR currently doesn’t have marketable name, but the company does not want to bring an untested product to market. For now, they’re making sure that their calculations and simulations are correct before proceeding to human trials. Their relationship with Universities is considered as a key to future success, and all the products and technologies we mentioned above were made in close collaboration with the Universities that are heavily involved with the specific product group.

Should pTeroPure, AnthoPure and NR prove successful, it will be key evidence that having a lab positioned between university research and large food and beverage conglomerates.

Technology: Your Next Food is being computed
From our conversations with the company’s CEO and the researchers involved, the future of food is being broken down to simpler elements. Thanks to ever-increasing computational capability to run simulations, computer-controlled machines enable much higher precision in extraction or synthesizing the molecular structure of natural chemical elements that are proving or could prove to be beneficial for our health.

ChromaDex Q-TOF at Boulder, CO
ChromaDex Q-TOF at Boulder, CO

While we cannot disclose what are the exact computational and technological capabilities of ChromaDex and its University research partners, the future of food and beverage is increasingly computational and more importantly, more healthy.

Should the development go well, we won’t be far away from the universal "fat pill", "diabetes pill" etc, but they won’t come in a shape or form we know today. The food we consume today is typically loaded with chemicals to preserve the form and taste, sacrificing the actual quality of the food. Are we going to end up eating raw food with ingredients such as those from ChromaDex? Unless you’re dead set on eating pounds and pounds of blueberries, somehow we believe you will opt for an easier path. With less sugar, that’s for sure. Finding proper ingredients to add into your daily food consumption was traditionally a tall order.

ChromaDex has a pretty good chance in bringing its technologies to market (and that market being our stomachs), but it remains to be seen have they learned on the Stevia case. They are poised for growth, with the question being just how big they can become?