|Pharmalink's "Lyprinol" naturally relieves inflammatory conditions|
If you had told Robert L. Meyer, when he was a law student at Columbia University, that in the 21st century he would be talking to people about a natural product that effectively and safely reduces inflammation for sufferers of chronic inflammatory disorders, he would probably have thought you were mad.
Meyer’s journey from suburban New Jersey to New York to Hong Kong, where he has lived since 1978, is a fascinating story in its own right. A three-year stint in Hong Kong on his way to Japan as a lawyer with Coudert Brothers turned into 25-plus years of conglomerate-building, deal-making, investment management, property development and renovation, and venture capitalism.
An initial investment in Antipodean nutraceuticals: tea-tree oil and lavender oil, which have no barrier to market entry, ultimately led Meyer to Lyprinol, the patented extract of the New Zealand green-lipped – or green-shelled – mussel. Lyprinol is a product which is from indigenous origins.
An Australian family company, MacLab, had been working with the mussels already. They developed mussel-farming techniques that maximised harvesting efficiency while preserving the purity of the mussel-farming area in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds Maritime National Park.
The first product – capsulised freeze-dried mussel powder – was susceptible to rapid oxidation, which rendered it ineffective. It also tended to retain moisture and gave off an unpleasant smell. A final patented step – stabilisation – was necessary to prevent oxidation, ensuring effectiveness and consistency.
Today, two hours after being harvested, the mussels undergo processing in Nelson, New Zealand. Refrigerated fresh mussels are ground, centrifuged, mixed with stabiliser, and freeze-dried.
The oil is extracted through a supercritical extraction process. Pharmalink sells the oil (a unique combination of six marine fatty acids) either in its bulk form or made into gel-caps.
There have now been more than 24 clinical and laboratory studies done on Lyprinol. All have followed rigorous scientific protocols, many published in peer-reviewed journals, and have consistently shown that Lyprinol is effective and safe in reducing inflammation in chronic inflammatory conditions.
“Many of the conventional arthritis remedies are literally toxic,” Meyer explains. “The older drugs really only mask symptoms, and can dissolve mucous membranes through the whole digestive tract. Cox-2 inhibitors cause similar problems and are linked to heart disease and strokes. The beauty of Lyprinol is its complete absence of adverse side effects or drug interactions.”
Why not market Lyprinol as a drug? The regulatory process is extraordinarily long and expensive, according to Meyer, costing up to a billion US dollars and taking five to ten years.
But once drug status has been achieved, manufacturers can make “disease” and “cure” claims. Lyprinol, as a natural product generally regarded as safe, can only make claims as to its “structure” – what it does chemically inside the body and “function” – the physical result.
According to Meyer, the regulatory process has another emerging problem. “Since the human genome has been mapped, genetic factors have become much more important in medical treatment. Drugs will need to be more specific, which means that the already high regulatory costs will apply to drugs that will suit even smaller markets.”
So Lyprinol, backed by its formidable body of research, and easily tolerated by most people, is marketed as a nutraceutical, targeting the rapidly-expanding food-as-medicine consumer market.
Pharmalink’s principal asset is the patents, trademarks, technical know-how and world-wide distribution rights that it purchased from MacLab in 1999. "Pharmalink is a ‘hollowed-out’ company,” explains Meyer.
“We are run by only twelve persons – two in Hong Kong, four in Manila [accounting and other back-office activity], two in Macau [purchasing and sales], and four in Australia [marketing services].
Processing is contracted out to MacLab and other facilities. Pharmalink contracts worldwide distribution in 24 countries at present to independent, local marketing and distribution companies. “We are very light on the ground,” says Meyer.
Pharmalink is a publicly-held but unlisted company owned by 1,122 shareholders. Its shares trade informally over-the-counter in Hong Kong. The company is profitable and its gross profit margin for 2005 was 49.2%, while its net profit margin, normally in the upper teens, slipped to 5.7% because of increased investment. Consumer purchases of Lyprinol worldwide total more than US$30 million.
The key to growth for Pharmalink is increasing its sales. Last year Lyprinol was sold in 24 countries, with the biggest sales in Korea and Australia. “We have terrific distributors in Korea,” remarked Meyer. “Two sisters who run a family pharmaceutical company and do everything right. If only we had them everywhere!”
Israel is number seven on the list in total country sales, ahead of both the UK and Canada. “Gal Fridman, Israel’s only Olympic gold medalist (wind-surfing), was in Hong Kong last year. Elite athletes often suffer from osteo-arthritis, through repeated minute traumas. I told Gal about Lyprinol and he said ‘I need it now.’ He’s reported that it cut the pain and stiffness in his hands by half.”
Since the product can be purchased easily over-the-counter, people are trying it for conditions such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, allergy and even cardiovascular disease.
A major study found Lyprinol effective against the inflammatory reactions associated with asthma but without the side effects associated with the usually-prescribed inhaled corticosteroid drugs. Three more Lyprinol asthma studies are now under way.
While drug companies such as Pfizer, Inc. have thousands of representatives and spend millions of dollars on advertising, Pharmalink has chosen to remain small and to control the most important part of its Lyprinol investment: its patents, trademarks, research and industrial processes.
Pharmalink has an ingenious business model that has proved to be low cost and profitable while doing some real good in the world by promoting and marketing a safe, effective, natural anti-inflammatory product, Lyprinol.
(Issue July / August 2006)