From snake oil to medicine – A huge gap, and there should be

CEO Communique
Date:  2018-10-03
Author:   Dr. Sean Hall
From snake oil to medicine – A huge gap, and there should be

Among descriptions commonly applied to products under the nutraceutical banner are vitamins, minerals and herbal products and dietary supplements.

Harsher critics see them all as snake oil, without any medical claims and just producing expensive urine.

There are also studies which diminish any therapeutic potential of supplementation – and to be frank, I agree with a lot of this criticism.

But there is another approach which represents a stark contrast – how about nutraceuticals which are researched, have proven efficacy and which are clinically trialled.

The point is these vastly different approaches can and do co-exist.

I write with some personal experience of this over a number of years.

I’ve been involved in research-based supplementation for most of my adult life, running FIT – BioCeuticals Ltd which we sold to Blackmores in 2012, and then starting Medlab which listed on the ASX in July 2015.

When I was at BioCeuticals we were recognised as a leader in vitamin research, with programs on display for the world to see.

Two of our key programs (at the time) were the Cardiac Wellness Program (fish oils) at the Alfred Hospital with Prof Frank Rosenfeldt, and the Kids Perthes Program (vitamin D3) at the Westmead Children’s Hospital with Prof Craig Munns.

The point here is it was meaningful research, with high transparency.

This sort of research has value and it is distinct from the reliance many people place in Dr Google these days.

At Medlab we maintain an open position on our research – our publications and conference engagements are on our website

In the drug world, as distinct from nutraceuticals, research is on the whole finished product, not an ingredient which may or may not be used in combination with others.

One of the more interesting developments in science in recent years is the increasing extent to which there is a crossover of the nutraceutical, pharmaceutical and medical fields.

A contributing factor to this has been revelations about the importance of the microbiome and how gut wellbeing, often the target of nutraceutical research, has an important impact on how medicines are absorbed into the bloodstream.

Medicines conceived in a lab and applied in clinical trials are based on assumed modes of action which can be different in reality based on individual gut health and a better understanding of the interaction between the gut and the rest of the body.

At Medlab we’re trying to cover some of these directions by having an open mind about our research, with some having a nutraceutical endpoint and others developing a pharmaceutical direction.

As a result, Medlab has an extensive patent portfolio.

From snake oil to medicine – A huge gap, and there should be

Here are a few examples of how Medlab’s research is involving a nutraceutical/medical crossover:

  • MultiBioticTM – a multi-strain probiotic, now approved for a clinical trial for mucositis/neutropenia, both of which are common outcomes for patients being treated for cancer with chemotherapy
  • NRGBioticTM – another multi-strain probiotic, currently in a Phase 2a study with QUT, for treatment of depression in combination with a standard anti-depressant medication
  • T2BioticTM – a different multi-strain probiotic to those above and which is being prepared for a Phase 2a trial for the treatment of obesity and diabetes

Medlab has a unique opportunity to commercialise 3 very different pathways:

  1. Premium, scientifically validated, nutraceuticals, in the professional healthcare market
  2. Novel pharmaceuticals for partnering
  3. An extensive patent portfolio for licencing.

What this shows, is that when medical research begins without a closed mind on the benefits nutraceuticals can bring, it can forge a new path in treating chronic disease.

Related to this is relooking at assumptions around medicine delivery.

While it is still common for us to take medicine as a tablet, injection or intravenous drip, research is showing that delivery by a sub-micron spray can speed absorption into the bloodstream and consequently may require lower doses.

This research is behind Medlab’s development of its sub-micron particle medicine spray, NanoCelleTM, which it is applying to active ingredients in nutraceuticals, such as vitamin D3 and B12, and also our pharmaceuticals, such as Medlab’s cannabis-based medicines currently in a clinical trial and being readied for a clinical trial, respectively.

An interesting outcome of the crossover between nutraceutical and pharmaceutical research is that it sets up a different way consumers can access this research.

Everyone is used to the way medical conditions are treated – patients visit doctors who diagnose a condition and prescribe a drug, with patients filling the prescription at a pharmacy.

When consumers want to buy vitamins and supplements they will often ask a pharmacist for advice.

With the onset of research-based nutraceuticals, consumers have a wider choice – they could be recommended by a doctor because of them (nutraceuticals) having a drug-like status at the end of a clinical trial and they would also be on pharmacy shelves for purchase.

The contrast with snake oil needn’t be spelled out but there’s a big gap between it and research, and there should be.


Tell us what you think login to share your thoughts.


Dr. Sean Hall, Chief Executive Officer of Medlab
Chief Executive Officer
Dr. Sean Hall

Sean founded Medlab in August 2012; he has over 20 years' experience in nutraceutical sales and development, as well as early drug discovery in Australia, Asia and the US. Sean has led and inspired his teams to author multiple patents, write peer-reviewed articles and deliver lectures at scientific conferences. His passion is leading his researchers into novel areas and strong commercialisation opportunities.

Prior Sean was a founder of FIT-BioCeuticals. Under his management and guidance, BioCeuticals became the most innovative, research-driven, practitioner brand in Australia. For his sale of FIT-BioCeuticals to Blackmores in 2012, Sean was nominated as a finalist in the inaugural Australian Exit CEO of the Year Award. Sean is a Medical Doctor with an MBA in clinical pharmaceutical management and focuses on the research to pioneer innovation and commercialisation. Sean is an active member of Medicines Australia, the European Medical Association, the American Federation for Medical Researcher, The World Medical Association, A4M and Special Operations Medical Association.