Cambridge Nutraceuticals CEO Adam Cleevely on the success of its natural health supplements
Company wins Cambridge Independent High Growth Business of the Year at SME Cambridgeshire Business Awards 2018
Its ‘tomato pill’ is famous – having made headlines around the world for its potential to help patients with heart disease.
But Cambridge Nutraceuticals now has a whole range of natural health supplements designed to help with everything from eye health to joints.
And its progress has been honoured with two awards at the SME Cambridgeshire Business Awards – the Cambridge Independent High Growth Business of the Year and the St James’s Place Wealth Management Service Excellence award.
“The company was founded in 2012 with one product, a patented formulation of a compound called lycopene. It’s a tomato extract that’s very good for you and we’ve got the best version of it,” says chief executive officer Adam Cleevely.
“The company was established to run and oversee trials on the compound, which £12million was put into.
“A very exciting trial at Addenbrooke’s showed it improved endothelial function in cardiovascular patients by 30-50 per cent. This is the blood flow, which was measured in the forearms of people with cardiovascular disease and it was improving it.
“This is really important – it’s the equivalent of lowering your blood pressure to let blood flow more easily.”
Indeed, the 2014 study of 36 patients and 36 healthy volunteers concluded: “We have demonstrated, in a double blind, randomised, controlled mechanistic trial, that lycopene improves endothelial function in CVD (cardiovascular disease) patients.”
Each capsule of the product – Ateronon Heart+ – is said to contain the same amount of lycopene as that you would obtain from eating 1kg of cooked tomatoes.
Lycopene from fresh tomatoes is poorly absorbed by the body. It is taken in much more efficiently from processed foods such as tomato paste and tomato juice heated in oil.
Cambridge Nutraceuticals’ patented formulation uses LactoLycopene – a combination of lycopene and whey protein designed to aid absorption. The capsules also contain thiamin, selenium and some B vitamins.
Adam said: “People with high levels of lycopene tend to suffer less from heart disease and strokes. It’s a very strong antioxidant – and there is a lot said about the properties of antioxidants.
“The company originally sold that product through Boots, Holland & Barrett, Tesco and Sainsbury’s and all those. When I joined just over three years ago it was to focus on the direct-to-consumer part of the business.
“What was brilliant about the business was the super high quality food extract or supplement that people loved and were very engaged with. We wanted to roll that out across a wider range of products that had the same level of clinical efficacy.
“They had to have the benchmark of quality. We went about rebranding and came out of retail and just focused relentlessly on direct-to-consumer channels.”
Launched under the FutureYou brand, and sold online, these supplements include Turmeric+.
“Turmeric is very popular,” says Adam. “There are more than 1,000 clinical papers published in a year on curcumin – the exciting bit in turmeric. There are three variants of curcumin and there is a lot of research into the effects.
“It interrupts part of the inflammation cycle, which is implicated in all sorts of things. That’s why it is talked about for joint health, brain health and even cancer and digestive health.
“It’s a hot area for food supplements. The problem is it’s badly absorbed.
“When you eat turmeric, or even pure curcumin, your stomach is very good breaking it down and making sure it doesn’t get into your bloodstream.
“We specialise in making sure we have formulations that get where they need to.”
Cambridge Nutraceuticals’ formulation combines curcumin from turmeric plus soy lecithin, an oil that is an extract of soya, which the company says improves absorption by a factor of 30 compared to standard turmeric tablets alone. Such ‘bioavailability’ is critical, says the company, in ensuring food extracts do their job.
Other supplements in the FutureYou catalogue are designed with men’s health, women’s health, pregnancy and conception, joint health, eye health and more in mind.
With so many options, how does a consumer decide what is good for them?
“It’s really important for people to focus on areas that they have a need for,” says Adam. “I would never recommend someone take a product if they didn’t think they needed it.
“People interested in supplements get used to what their body needs and what is and isn’t working in their body.
“If both your parents lived to 100, and they’ve got perfect cholesterol and blood pressure, why would you take something for your heart? Supplements are for adding in what you think you might not be getting elsewhere.”
The company’s vitamin B complex, for example, can help those who know they have a deficiency.
“With vitamin Bs, there is a broad spectrum,” says Adam. “If you suffer from one vitamin B deficiency, you might have others. They can help both with sleep and alertness.
“Everybody is different. Even the commonest drugs in the world – take paracetamol or aspirin – can affect people in different ways. B vitamins can be like that. I’ve known people who can only get their vitamin B12 level corrected through injections.
“Normally, for vitamin B12, the target is about the equivalent of a steak every two to four weeks for most people. While vitamin C can’t be stored for long, B12 lasts a while.”
Cambridge Nutraceuticals is focused purely on natural sources.
“All of our ingredients are 100 per cent naturally sourced,” says Adam. “They are not synthesised chemicals.
“If you isolate a single compound that’s really interesting, you risk missing out.
“When you eat an orange, it is not just the vitamin C that is good for you. There are all sorts of other things in there: different kinds of fibre and carbohydrates. They are feeding your microbiome and doing all sorts of other good things for you.
“That’s the great thing about working with extracts from plants rather than synthesising chemicals. You keep a lot of the other rich compounds around there, which is why our curcumin is actually a few curcumoids. And our lycopene product has 7-8mg of lycopene and 340mg of other stuff that we’ve collected from the tomato.”
As food extracts, Cambridge Nutraceuticals’ supplements do not have to go through the same kind of very lengthy clinical trial process as new medicines.
“They are governed by the regulations that govern food,” says Adam.
This aids the timely release of new products – but does limit what clinical claims can be made about them when trying to sell them to the consumer.
“Whereas with ibruprofen you can say it reduces pain and stops headaches our products are technically and legally a food so there’s little you can say in trying to sell them to the customer,” explains Adam.
“But some things like vitamin B are so well-established and well-known that there are some approved things you can talk about, like reducing tiredness and fatigue.
“Where something is newer, like a product that might help depression, for example, until it has been through the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA), which takes a very long time, you can’t say anything about it. You are reliant on intelligent consumers doing their own research.”
Cambridge Nutraceuticals has a medical advisory board that assesses its products.
“We have a lot of partners around the world that we work with,” explains Adam. “A lot of people bring us products wanting us to sell them. We go through an audit process to understand the background on a compound and the specific form that someone has come up with. We have a team in-house that conducts that audit and we also have a scientific review board, made of up researchers at various universities around the country, including at the University of Cambridge and people associated with Addenbrooke’s.”
This board includes Prof Michael Heinrich, head of University College London’s Centre of Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy, which studies plant and their use for medicinal purposes.
Also on the board is Professor Alf Lindberg, a former member of the Nobel Committee and secretary of the prize in physiology or medicine, Peter Kirkpatrick, a leading Cambridge University vascular neurosurgeon, and Dr Nicholas Shenker, a consultant rheumatologist and expert in chronic pain syndromes.
“We also run trials on our products, which we sponsor at various institutions, such as the early one at Addenbrooke’s,” says Adam.
“We have grown very successfully since changing the business model from when we had one product and went through retailers. We have fantastic traction for our new brand, FutureYou. We very quickly went from hundreds to thousands and upwards in customer numbers and sales.”
The products are no longer available in the shops.
“We went into shops as secret shoppers and we didn’t feel our products are getting the support and knowledge they should.
“They are premium products not your average vitamins.
“We spend a lot of time helping customers so I don’t think it’s chance that we won both a customer service award and a growth award,” says Adam.
The company raised some funding last year that helped it expand, so that it now employs 25 at its Regent Street site.
“We increased the size of our product development team six months ago and are hoping to see the fruits of that coming through in the second half of the year,” says Adam.
But what does the CEO himself take?
“I think I’ve tried every product on the catalogue,” he says. “I take the three that I feel fit me best, which is the Turmeric+, the Ateronon Heart+ and our Krill Oil, which has the most concentrated omega-3. Within omega-3, there are two really important kinds: EPA and DHA. The ratio of each is important. Our version gives you a much better ratio and amount of each of those than cod liver oil, which is biased towards DHA and not so much EPA.”
Adam’s hoping they’ll help keep him in as good health as his business is right now.