“Despite economic slowdown, the wellness industry continues to be resilient”

Mentioned Dr Muhammed Majeed, Founder and Chairman, Sami-Sabinsa Group of companies in an exclusive interaction with the BioVoice News

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Bangalore based Sami Labs has over the past 25 years, brought to the market more than 100 standardized botanical extracts, and privately funded clinical studies in conjunction with prestigious institutions in support of these products. In a chat with the BioVoice, Dr Muhammed Majeed, Founder and Chairman, Sami-Sabinsa Group of companies gave insights into the company’s foundation, its achievements  and future as well as the overall market scenario.  Read the details from the exclusive interaction below:

BV_icon_final Please share your memorable moments during the journey of Sami Labs since its inception. Has the company performed to your satisfaction and vision?

After obtaining a degree in Pharmacy from Kerala University in 1975, I had the opportunity to move to the United States and work as a pharmacist. I eventually pursued my passion for knowledge and did a Masters in Industrial Pharmacy from Long Island University, New York.  I obtained the opportunity to work for top pharmaceutical companies, like, Pfizer Inc., Carter Wallace and Paco Research while pursuing my doctorate from St. John’s University.

I always wanted to introduce Indian Ayurveda to Americans as a therapeutic adjuvant for various ailments, and hence started Sabinsa Corporation in 1988 in the state of New Jersey, USA, where we marketed more than 30 standardised botanical extracts back then, most of which were derived from Indian herbs and cited in the Ayurveda.  Witnessing a growing demand for our products, we established Sami Labs in Bangalore in 1991 that houses a large research and development facility today. The objective was to develop nutraceuticals and fine chemicals for various marketing organisations. Eventually Sabinsa around the world became the business to business marketing arm of Sami Labs. In 2010, we started Sami Direct, which is the direct marketing entity of finished nutraceutical and cosmeceutical products from Sami Labs.

Today Sami Labs has emerged as a globally known brand with more than 115 international patents and string of alliances in the US, Japan, Korea, Europe, Australia, Middle East, South Africa, China, etc.

It was my dream and vision that the goodness of plants reaches every household and that health and wellness be affordable for all. Today, with Sami Direct, this dream is slowly turning into reality.

BV_icon_final How do you look at the fast changing perception about the phytopharma? Shouldn’t the government promote this industry at a much bigger scale now?

Research reveals consumer healthcare industry will grow exponentially over the next five years. This phenomenal growth will be primarily driven by health and wellness products that include fortified foods and beverages, nutrition and dietary supplements, vitamins and other wellness products. People in general are aware of and accepting the concept of keeping fit and healthy and one of the solutions they see merit in is by consuming nutritional supplements, without compromising heavily on their present lifestyle. Despite a slowdown in economic growth, the wellness industry continues to be resilient to wellness products and services with companies fine-tuning their products following deeper research.

“Today, many countries are strengthening regulations in order to improve the credibility of the wellness sector and India especially is being perceived as a significant contender of this emerging industry.”

According to EXIM Bank Report, the global market for phytopharma is forecast to reach US$ 149 billion by 2018; increased outsourcing of R&D to Contract Research Organisations – growing at an annual rate of about 10 per cent between 2008 and 2013, and accounting for around 10 per cent of total global pharmaceutical R&D spend currently.

The Indian pharmaceutical market is noted to be a major market, second only to the USA by 2020 driven by rapid urbanisation and greater economic development. Rural markets are also projected to grow faster, driven by step-up from current poor levels of penetration.

Traditional herbal wellness and dietary supplements are constantly being subjected to validation and product innovation to match customer needs. Moreover, companies are focussing on exploring new distribution pattern to increase their market share. Today, many countries are strengthening regulations in order to improve the credibility of the wellness sector and India especially is being perceived as a significant contender of this emerging industry.

BV_icon_final How important is research and development investments for Sami Labs? Do you plan any collaborations with both academia as well as other members of the industry?

Sami Labs was honored with the NIB Global Innovation & Excellence Award at a ceremony organized by the Public Relations Council of India (PRCI) and the Press Club of India for the annual title, 2016. The award was largely in recognition of the Intellectual Property portfolio attained by the Sami-Sabinsa Group, now encompassing over 115 US and international patents. Unlike other organisations in the space, Sami Labs of which Sami Direct is the subsidiary, houses a research facility with over 200 scientists involved in specialised work in areas of phytochemistry, organic chemistry, tissue culture, plant biotechnology, biochemical pharmacology and clinical research.

The recent patents are comprised of ingredients such as Calebinoids; stilbenoids; peptides; 3-hydroxypterostilbene; boswellic acids; and garcinol along with several others in countries ranging from China and New Zealand to the US, Canada and Mexico. The categories ranged from hypercholesterolemia, weight management, treating skin aging, inhibiting and preventing adipogenesis, protecting articular cartilage and even a hepatoprotectant molecule. Many of these will find a place in Sami-Sabinsa’s Nutraceutical, Cosmeceutical, Functional Food and Natural Drug divisions for commercialization and licensing.

The current R&D impetus of the Sami-Sabinsa group focuses strongly on immunological basis of disease management by natural principles. With precise scientific evidence generation at the basic, pre-clinical, and clinical research stages, the group believes in creating reliable and responsible science. This objective has been recognized by the intellectual property systems across the globe.

Sami Labs is also associated with Universities across the globe where scientists and researchers evaluate the standardized ingredients from Sami for applications they specialize in. The studies range from in vitro, in vivo to a number of clinical validations. A standing example would be the evaluation of Curcumin C3 Complex in MD Anderson Cancer Research Institute for its potential role in cancer management. These studies emphasize and further validate the role of natural ingredients in improving health and wellness. Similar studies with products from the portfolio of the Sami-Sabinsa group have been and continue to be carried out in a number of Universities and Institutes across the world.

BV_icon_final Which are key opportunity areas that remain untapped and the challenges in achieving them?

All ancient civilizations in the world used plants to treat various diseases as they had the wisdom and required knowledge to utilize herbs for medicinal use. The growing awareness across the globe, about the medicinal and therapeutic effects of herbs and the adverse side effects of allopathic medicines are driving demand for herbal products – herbal extracts, dietary supplements and herbal beauty aids. Nearly 80 percent of the global population still relies on traditional herbal therapies for primary healthcare according to the World Health Organization. Along with this demand comes a need for continuous supply of high quality raw materials.

Fortunately, India has varied agro-climatic zones across many regions that can contribute to better land use patterns and is home to over 15,000 medicinal plants, of which approximately 7,000 plus are used for Ayurveda. The most important herbs grown in India for the global market include aloe-vera, amla, ashwagandha, brahmi, curcuma, garlic, henna, neem, lemon grass, saffron, and tulsi.

“Nearly 80 percent of the global population still relies on traditional herbal therapies for primary healthcare according to the World Health Organization. Along with this demand comes a need for continuous supply of high quality raw materials.”

The challenges, however the ancient methods of commercial farming, collecting, processing, storing and marketing of medicinal herbs remain.  The country continues to rely on very fundamental and unsophisticated technology to a large extent. The solution lies in encouraging sustainable harvesting of plants through cultivation using modern agricultural practices. This new method should involve integrated nutrient and pest management contributing to soil health, resulting in high quality produce besides positively contributing to the society in the long run.

To ensure good sustainable crops, we have identified several farmers in surrounding areas of Tamil Nadu and other states throughout India, who are able to cultivate sustainable Ayurvedic herbs used to develop dietary supplements. Our agricultural programs give technical assistance to these farmers, training them in good agricultural practices, sustainable herb collection and organic farming.

However, we have expressed our concerns to the Government about preserving Ayurvedic plants as out of 460 plants used in Ayurveda, 400 are in the endangered list. We need a Herbal Security Bill, like the Food Security Bill to pursue this system of medicine in times to come.

BV_icon_final In which of the service areas has Sami Labs done an outstanding job? Whom do you give credit to?

Mother Nature is the biggest chemist synthesizing a wide variety of interesting and amazing chemical moieties with potential benefits to mankind. Research laboratories at Sami Labs Limited endeavour to tap this immense natural potential to bring out products with the goal of “Design to Delivery”.

To achieve this goal, several independent divisions work with a synergistic approach and help profile the product to meet international standards. The innovations have brought us not just a rising arrow in our growth chart, but also have won us several accolades and awards, national and international.

The Formulations R&D division forms the convergence of the various product concepts that have been developed as ingredients. Bioactives, based on their activity and functionality, are moulded into various forms – with Nutraceutical, Cosmeceutical, Nutricosmetic as well as Food & Beverage applications.

The three major functional areas include:

  • Nutraceutical and Nutricosmetic formulations
  • Cosmetic and Personal Care formulations
  • Functional Food and Beverage formulations

Prototypes development of a number of solid, liquid and semisolid dosage forms, dietary supplements, personal care range cosmetics and functional food concepts is the core activity of this division.

Formulations R&D division plays a major role in providing a solid foundation for the business development activities.With its 200 member’s team, over 6000 acres of contract farming and commitment to sustainable development, Sami Labs Ltd. continues to develop innovative patented nutraceutical and cosmeceutical products for the world over.

With over 115 patents awarded and several more in process, all products of Sami Direct are formulated in accordance with the global standards.

BV_icon_final What is your opinion on the corporate social responsibility? Has Sami Labs been involved in any such projects?

Established in 2010, Sami Direct, a subsidiary of Indian Multinational Health Science Company Sami Labs Ltd, wherein the latter for the past 26 years, has been committed to the ‘Make in India’ belief of transforming India into a global hub in the area of research in preventive health care.

Dr. Muhammed Majeed has taken up the project UMMEED (hope in Hindi) that will support the bright students who are deprived of valuable basic degree education, for lack of finance, with required educational assistance irrespective of their caste, creed and religion. The project will initially focus on Uttar Pradesh and will further reach out to other states throughout the country.

BV_icon_final What is your long term vision for Sami Labs and how can it match with fulfilment of Indian healthcare requirements?  

SamiDirect is one of the fastest growing direct sellers of nutraceutical and cosmeceutical products in India. SamiDirect products are sold through 3,00,000+ Independent Business Owners in India, Malaysia, and Bangladesh. We plan to expand our market reach to Indonesia, Philippines and Dubai within the next two years. Our product portfolio will also expand to include more award-winning ingredients with the finest research.