Demand for natural products like standardised extracts in dietary supplements and nutraceuticals has been on the rise globally during the last two decades. This period has also witnessed natural products gaining entry in other related areas like food and cosmetics. .
Today, USA, Europe and Japan account for 93% of the total global nutraceutical market, and overall, the market has attained maturity in all the three regions. India on the other hand has been at the forefront as far as the use of Ayurveda and other traditional medicines derived from plants is concerned. However, the country is relatively a late entrant in the field of nutraceuticals. The Indian nutraceutical market is presently dominated by pharmaceuticals and FMCG companies with very few companies that only specialise in nutraceutical products, particularly botanical supplements.
Interestingly, the botanical ingredients (BIs) occupy a niche space in the Indian scenario and the manufacturers of BIs are primarily exporters to the developed world. The latter offers vibrant market space for Indian BIs having research backup and complying with the tough quality standards. Research-based manufacturers of BIs have taken the route of adding science to the traditional knowledge to develop innovative ingredients from medicinal and food plants such as turmeric, ginger, tulsi and brahmi.
Nutraceuticals containing BIs are being developed for various purposes such as weight management, sugar management, joint health, memory, digestive health, heart health, immune health, anti-stress etc. Development of BIs requires a different approach as compared to single chemical entities. Unlike the latter, the BIs are a complex soup of phytochemicals containing both primary and secondary metabolites of plants. At the same time, most medicinal plants are also indicated for multiple health benefits. Under these circumstances research and innovations are typically directed towards identifying the active constituents which are responsible for targeted biological activity and developing BIs based on the content of active constituents.
Some of these research and innovation areas for developing new BIs include isolation/identification of active principles of plants and extracts, identification of mechanisms of action of plant extracts, bioavailability studies of active constituents, improving physicochemical and organoleptic properties of plant extracts, improving stability of plant extracts, synergy/antagonism and herb drug interactions, formulation and analytical development.
Research in these areas overall help in selecting the right extraction methods to capture the right chemistry of the plant in the extract and in knowing how the constituents of the extract work in the body, apart from the formulation aspects. Toxicity studies, both in-vitro and in-vivo and randomised placebo controlled clinical trials are often conducted to evaluate the safety and efficacy of BIs.
There are also research areas during backward integration which include tissue culture, optimisation of concentration of secondary metabolites, post-harvest interventions to retain active principles etc. aimed at providing the right quality of raw material for extraction of herbs.
Typically the R&D comprises of a multidisciplinary team with people specialised in pharmacognosy, pharmaceutical chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology and biotechnology. The development of BIs with original scientific and clinical data would take anywhere between 2-4 years and can cost Rs 1-3 crore depending on the nature of the project.
The fast changing consumer requirements, market competition, regulatory scenario, technology and globalisation are significantly influencing directions of research aimed at developing innovative BIs. Notwithstanding the uncertainties, the future looks bright for BIs both in Indian and global context.