Nestle pursuing nutrition-based autism treatment

by Josh Sosland
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Luis Cantarell, head of Zone EMENA at Nestle, offered an update on the company’s ambitions in health science.

LONDON – While acknowledging the company does not have solutions yet, a top executive of Nestle S.A. said the relationship between autism and healthy gut flora that could be delivered with probiotics has been clearly established.

Luis Cantarell, head of Zone EMENA at Nestle, spoke March 16 at the Consumer Analyst Group of Europe conference in London.

To Mr. Cantarell, who at one point headed the Nestle Health Science business, a simple question underpins the adventurous health-oriented venture at Nestle:

“Why could nutrition not be part of the solution for people with chronic medical diseases?”

Mr. Cantarell cited evidence linking autism with intestinal disorders. He said three of four children with autism also have intestinal disorders.

“There is a clear relationship between microbiota (also known as gut flora), and what we could deliver with probiotics, and autism,” he said. “Now, we need to prove that. We are going to work on that. Do we have the solutions? Not yet. But we are convinced that in the future you are going to talk a lot about this initiative that I have the honor to found.”

While the company did not and still does not know exactly where this venture may lead, Mr. Cantarell said Nestle is convinced nutrition will factor in addressing health issues. In helping establish the business from the ground up, Mr. Cantarell had projected the venture would be organized in two years and a product portfolio and pipeline would be built in five. The effort currently is in its fifth year.

“And I believe in ten years we will be able to demonstrate leadership, the leadership being the acceptance of the world that we have been able to create a new area of expansion of nutrition working in areas like gastrointestinal diseases, like brain health,” he said.

Mr. Cantarell devoted a considerable part of his presentation to the establishment of Nestle Health Science, a strategic initiative he called “disruptive innovation.” He cited autism as a possible target for new product development for the company.

Nearer term, he said the Nestle Health Science division under the leadership of Greg Behar, was growing rapidly in its consumer care segment.

“We’ve launched an initiative called Meritene,” he said. “This is a brand that is going to travel all over Europe in this consumer care. This is for aging people.”

Products sold under the Meriteme Engeris brand include shakes that are a vitamin, mineral and protein fortified drink mix with skimmed milk and sweetener; and soup, a mix of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.

A relationship between autism and healthy gut flora that could be delivered with probiotics has been clearly established, according to Nestle.

In the nutrition area, Mr. Cantarell said the company is looking to address metabolic issues associated with obesity.

Even more ambitious, perhaps, is what he called the division’s “newborn,” – Novel Therapeutic Nutrition – segment.

“We are a minority investment in a company that is going to lead microbiota therapeutic solutions for microbiota problems called Seres Health,” he said.

Based in Cambridge, Mass., Seres is a clinical-stage drug company discovering and developing treatments for diseases of the microbiome (microorganisms in a particular environment). The company’s lead drug, SER-109, is for the treatment of Clostridium difficile infection (C.D.I.). C.D.I. is a problem associated with antibiotic use and affects over 700,000 people a year, leading to 14,000 deaths. The company is hoping to move the drug into advanced clinical trials.

Other investments or acquisitions cited by Mr. Cantarell include Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., San Diego; Pamlab, Inc., Covington, La.; and Accera, Inc., Broomfield, Colo. Nestle also has invested in Flagship Ventures in Boston. A type of venture capital firm, Flagship includes a unit dedicated to “systematically originating and launching transformative companies that can shape the world’s future.”

Perhaps even more basic, Mr. Cantarell said Nestle has committed more than 500 million Swiss francs to the Nestle Institute of Health Sciences in Lausanne, Switzerland, focused on research of the genome and epigenetics, defined as the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.
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