New Zealand’s Homegrown Solution
30 June 2011
New Zealand’s Homegrown Solution
New Zealand’s homegrown solution challenges for a dominant role in pharmacies against multinational heavyweights when it comes to protecting against bacterial complications from winter coughs, colds and flu.
The fear of infection from unseen bacteria or viruses is a frequent concern as we have seen from the impact of the H1N1 virus two years ago and now an outbreak in Northern Germany of a new resistant strain of E. coli which has much of Europe heading toward another health scare. While it is the “Bad News Bugs” that grab all the media attention, and for good reason; we often forget that the vast majority of bacteria we encounter in our daily lives actually work to protect us.
Beneficial bacteria were widely used to help prolong the life of food through fermentation in climates without refrigeration or conditions unsuitable for storage. This process of fermentation also acts as a way of releasing nutrients in food that would otherwise remain undigested, but it was the Russian born immunologist Professor Elie Metchnikoff that made the connection between beneficial bacteria in these fermented foods and their positive effect in the human system.
BLIS Technologies (NZX:BLT) is a Dunedin biotechnology company that has harnessed the power of this unseen universe of bacteria. For every bad and destructive species of bacteria that hit our headlines, there appears to be a number of equally potent good bacteria, which can exert a positive influence over human health but rarely get the attention they deserve. BLIS Technologies owns over 2000 beneficial strains of bacteria that are known to exert some degree of protection against bad bacteria that might do us harm. During the 1990’s, Professor John Tagg at the University of Otago conducted a six-year study following the lives of 800 Dunedin school children. The study found that in the small group of children who naturally had certain types of these beneficial bacteria in their mouth and throat never acquired the bacteria that cause “strep throat”, while the larger group of children went on to acquire these usually detrimental bacteria. This early research was the start of a number of additional studies, which eventually lead to the formation of BLIS Technologies and confirmed the basis of the theory held by Prof Tagg that regular supplementation of good bacteria or “bacterial replacement therapy” as it is often referred to, could greatly reduce the chances of ever acquiring a strep throat infection. The reason why a Strep throat is dangerous, indicates Prof Tagg, is that in a small number of cases the condition leads to a much more serious disease called rheumatic fever and it is this disease which has reached levels in certain parts of New Zealand, normally seen only in third world populations.
“New Zealand had historically led the world in childhood health during the 1950’s, but today in parts of the country, we have levels of rheumatic fever only found among the poorest countries of the world.” Prof Tagg said. ”We have a cost effective scientifically-derived New Zealand grown product in our arsenal and we would like to be given the chance to be part of the New Zealand solution for combating rheumatic fever.”
In 2003, BLIS Technologies launched its first commercial product in New Zealand pharmacies. It was called BLIS Throat Guard and it was designed to provide sufficient amount beneficial bacteria of a type originally observed by Prof John Tagg and that would help protect the mouth and throat.
By the end of 2009, market research company Synovate ranked the company’s BLIS Throat Guard range 5th overall in pharmacy retail sales in New Zealand for the cough and cold category. This was a respectable position to have reached, despite not having the marketing spend that other larger competitors had. The Throat Guard product range had grown to its 5th rank position largely on repeat business from satisfied customers and word of mouth, according to Jim Davis, Managing Director of Pharmabroker Sales NZ Ltd.
But the real story is that by the end of 2010, the BLIS Throat Guard range further exceeded expectations and has now displaced two other well-known brands and moved into 3rd place behind the global retail pharmacy brands of Difflam and Strepsils (based on new market research from Synovate). And the news only gets better for BLIS Technologies, because unlike these two larger multinational competitors, the Throat Guard range is considered to be one of the fastest growing product ranges in the pharmacy cold and flu category. At current rates of growth Mr Davis suggests that Throat Guard could easily challenge for the number 2 position within the next 12 months.
CEO for BLIS Technologies, Dr Barry Richardson is delighted that the New Zealand market is doing so well and said that the company remains committed to its strategy of building its retail brand in New Zealand and supporting their ingredient strategy internationally.
The outlook for the Company’s New Zealand retail products in the coming year looks goods with further growth forecast. It is anticipated that growth rates of 20% or more are achievable and sustainable.