Economic Times
May 19, 2003. Delhi.

Drug co files 25 patents on 'new uses' of herbs


Sabinsa Corporation, an NRI-owned New Jersey-based herbal API and nutraceuticals manufacturer who is in the eye of a storm for patenting "new uses" of herbs which are claimed to be traditional knowledge in India, has 25 more such patent applications pending with US patent office, including skin lightening property of white turmeric.

"These are new uses discovered through rigorous R&D. It is very much in India's interest to have IPR protection and fetch a high price for these products," said Dr Muhammed Majeed, chairman and managing director, Sabinsa. All these patent applications have been made by Sabinsa along with Sami Labs, a Bangalore-based EOU, promoted by Sabinsa's management.

The Rs 70-crore Sami Labs supplies standardised herbal extracts, fine chemicals, cosmeceutics, probiotics etc exclusively to Sabinsa. The patents are helping Sami Labs to increase its export earnings, said Dr Majeed.

The new filings for US patents by Sabinsa and Sami Labs include an IPR claim on anti-tyrosinase activity of a derivative of curcumin from turmeric powder which is white in colour. Dr Majeed claims that though cosmetic use of turmeric is known in India, the white derivative does not stain the skin, as the yellow curcumin does.

Sabinsa's bulk tetrahydrocurcumin is currently being sold to a clutch of cosmetics manufacturers in US. Besides, a patent application is pending for a cost-effective herbal synthetic drug for treating African sleeping sickness, a neurological disorder.

Currently, the drug for this fatal disease - Efflornithine - is supplied by WHO, but its price, $ 6,000-7,000 per kg is prohibitive. The alternative product from Sabinsa's would cost just 10% of cost of Efflornithine.

"We spend 9% of the income in R&D. Sami Lab's R&D centre at Peenya has about 75 scientists, 50 of which in the area of herbal products," said Dr Majeed. Sami conducts clinical trials and toxicological evaluations of its products to meet the US-FDA regulatory standards. Post-marketing surveillance too is being done as per the FDA standards.

Sami is planning to set up a Rs 20 crore facility for formulation production at Peenya in Karnataka. The funds have been tied up through internal accruals and through loans from SBI and Exim Bank, said Dr Majeed. The company has manufacturing units located at Kunigal, Bangalore, Mysore and Nelamangala.

Among the eight US patents Sabinsa currently own, the most controversial is the patent pertaining to method of preparation of a forskohlin composition and its use for promoting lean body mass and treating mood disorders. Sabinsa's patented product 'Forslean' penetrated into the US cosmetics nutraceutical market very quickly.

Two other patents in connection with use of piperine as bioavailability enhancer have also been alleged to be untenable by a few domestic herbal drug manufacturers who offer their similar products at steeply lower prices.