Vittal Mallya Scientific Research Foundation (VMSRF) is a 20 year old not for profit organisation started by the United Breweries (UB) group with a mission of going back to nature; validate therapeutic and chemical potential of promising candidates and create novel products to improve healthcare and agriculture. VMSRF focuses on research in nutraceuticals – food products having a health or medicinal value, synthetic/natural product chemistry and plant biotechnology. Taking advantage of UB group’s strength in fermentation technology (Kingfisher beer!!) and commercialisation wing, VMSRF is able to bring products to the market soon. Their big seller to the tune of 100+ crores in exports is Hydroxycitrisol, an anti-obesity molecule derived from Kokum plant (Garcinia cambogia and Garcinia indica). Scientists at VMSRF have been able to synthesise develop technologies this as a high purified, water soluble, tasteless and colourless compound. With clinical trials attesting the compound to be safe, hydroxycitrisol has found its niche as an additive in diet drinks. The technology as such is protected with eight patents both Indian and US.
In a slight twist to traditional nutraceuticals, they are utilizing fermented papaya to use as an additive in processed foods. Papaya is rich in micronutrients and known to have hepatic protectant, immune boosting properties, act as an anti-oxidant and aid digestion. However due to its short shelf life, it has remained unexploited. The fermented papaya additive is stable for a long time while retaining immune-modulatory and hepato-protective activity. “It will soon find its way into ice-cream flavours and health drinks” reflects Dr. Anil Kush, the Director of VMSRF positively.
VMSRF has also developed Neem based organic biopesticides — SoluNeem and Checkmite. SoluNeem, patented worldwide is a broad spectrum, powder form, non-toxic, biodegradable insecticide while Checkmite has been specifically developed to check house dust mites. Nimasan is Checkmite in EU market and quite effective in controlling the dust mite allergy in safe and effective way. SoluNeem is US EPA approved. What is its status in India I enquire after having heard of its success in western markets? “Unfortunately, the bureaucracy in India is stifling. The US EPA took 1 year to approve SoluNeem while it has been 3 years since we submitted our application to the Central regulatory agencies and are still awaiting their response”, quips a dismayed Anil. Very reason that VMSRF has been able to make global impact in terms of its technologies and product speaks of its quality of focused competitive research, quality control and IPR protection.
Although relatively medium sized or big companies might be able to brook such delays in approvals, I wonder if delays present the biggest bottleneck for small enterprises or an individual entrepreneur who is pressed to break even soon. Despite the high cost of eco friendly pest control measures , given that more and more people taking to organic products in the cities, organic biopesticides are likely to be in demand in the future.
VMSRF’s work doesn’t stop just at creating new products. They want to impact each step in the value chain starting at crop production. They have also developed technologies for Jaivik Shakti, organic manure made of horse dung and vermicompost; Biofoster, a liquid solution providing complete nutrition to potted plants catering to urban areas and Mycostat, a neem based anti-fungal agent. Dr. Puja Ravikumar is working on metabolomic profiling of tomato to link secondary metabolite pathways impacting insect-plant interactions. The idea is to create new lines of crops where certain secondary metabolites can be enhanced or masked to repel pest insects and attract crop defenders. She also uses biotechnology and molecular biology to improve nutritional properties of safflower oil, efficiency of bio-fuel from jatropa and glycerol solubilisation and characterisation of sandalwood. Dr. Hegde, an agricultural scientist also organises regular workshops on organic and terrace gardening as an outreach initiative. He rightly points out “Research in the lab and developing new products is all fine but what is the use if people around us are not aware of its value?”
In line with its mission of serving the society, VMSRF is next looking to break into developing drugs for cancer and auto-immune disease treatment. Dr. Latha, my host at VMSRF is already working on developing animal models for such diseases. Given its satisfied scientists (everyone I interacted with genuinely seemed so), supportive workplace and the room to experiment, I wish them well in their endeavours.
For more information, see — http://vmsrf.org/index.html
1. Preuss HG, Rao SCV, Garis RI, Bramble JD, Ohia SE, Bagchi M, Bagchi D. An overview of the safety and efficacy of a novel, natural (-)-hydroxycitric acid extract (HCA-SX) for weight management. J Med. 2004;33:33 – 48.
2. M. S. Westerterp-Plantenga and E. M. R. Kovacs, “The effect of (-)-hydroxycitrate on energy intake and satiety in overweight humans,” International Journal of Obesity, vol. 26, no. 6, pp. 870 – 872, 2002
3. H. G. Preuss, D. Bagchi, M. Bagchi, C. V. S. Rao, S. Satyanarayana, and D. K. Dey, “Efficacy of a novel, natural extract of (-)-hydroxycitric acid (HCA-SX) and a combination of HCA-SX, niacin-bound chromium and Gymnema sylvestre extract in weight management in human volunteers: a pilot study,” Nutrition Research, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 45 – 58, 2004.