A2 Milk's push into China bolstered by results of human clinical trial in that country
By Fiona Rotherham
April 19 (BusinessDesk) - Specialty milk marketer A2 Milk has bolstered its push to sell more products in China through a recently completed human clinical trial comparing the gastrointestinal and cognitive effects of consuming milk containing the A1 beta casein with that of the A2 variant on people with self-reported lactose intolerance.
The results of the Chinese study were published this month in the Nutrition Journal and are due to be released at a Beijing press conference late tomorrow by the company.
It’s part of a bid by A2 to get more credible scientific validation of its marketing claims, that have been in contention since the late 1990s, that its products might be better for people intolerant to standard cow milk.
Cows naturally produce more than 200 different proteins with beta-casein comprising about 30 percent or 2.5 grams per glass. The A2 beta-casein was originally in cattle when first domesticated and the A1 beta-casein arose from a later genetic mutation in European cattle.
A2 Milk’s marketing material claims A1’s BCM-7 can trigger inflammation in the body that could “potentially” lead to medical problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, autism and schizophrenia but until now it’s had no hard scientific evidence from human clinical trials to back that up.
The Chinese study of 45 Han Chinese people compared the impact of consuming milk with the A1 beta-casein with that of milk containing only the A2 variant over a three-month period.
It found milk containing the A1 beta-casein worsened gastrointestinal symptoms and slowed cognitive processing speed whereas the milk with A2 beta-casein had no adverse effect.
The study’s authors conclude that “because elimination of the A1 B-casein attenuated these effects, some symptoms of lactose intolerance may stem from inflammation it triggers, and can be avoided by consuming milk containing only the A2 type of beta-casein.”
A second clinical trial is now underway on 600 people in China, including adults and infants.
In New Zealand the government is contributing around $1 million to human clinical trials under the High-Value Nutrition Challenge in partnership with A2, AgResearch and the University of Auckland.
The A1 and A2 beta-caseins are different in structure, and subsequently, the way they are digested. AgResearch scientist Matthew Barnett told a High-Value Nutrition Challenge conference last week that human beta-caseins are more like A2 than the A1 variant.
He said it was important to be able to demonstrate health benefits from A2 Milk to support charging a premium for the product. While the rest of the dairy industry has faced low global prices, A2 Milk has been able to charge more than double the price of standard milk and gained just under 10 percent of the fresh milk market in Australia.
A2's profit for the half-year was up almost 800 percent to $10.1 million on the back of booming demand for its infant formula powder in China and Australia while revenue from China alone rose 680 percent to $8.4 million.
Barnett said despite the success of the Chinese study, the effects of the A1 beta-casein needs to be further demonstrated in other human clinical trials.
He said the double-blind cross-over Auckland studies hope to produce ethically significant evidence on comparisons between the two milks and better understand why that occurs to back up A2 Milk’s health claims. MRI imaging will be used to show changes within a short timeframe as the milk moves through the gut alongside analysis of compounds in patient's breath.
The first trial involving 12 people will begin this year and if the results are positive, a second study of a larger cohort of around 40 people will then be conducted based on what data will best “tell the story”, he said.
A2 Milk is also in the final stages of implementing human clinical trials on the same digestive impact of the milk with a leading US biomedical research centre and in the UK.