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WellGen seeks partnerships for first nutrigenomic products

By Clarisse Douaud

9/25/2006 - Nutrigenomics specialist WellGen is negotiating partnerships with food companies for its first two ingredients and looks to roll out another this year, with new president and CEO Dr Kathleen Mullinix at the helm.

Dr Kathleen Mullinix succeeded Dr David Evans, who passed away suddenly in June 2006. Based in New Brunswick, NJ, the biotechnology company screens the effect of food substances on gene expression associated with human health conditions.

After ten years of research and development, WellGen has two products nearly ready for market that could position it as a major influence in the field of nutrigenomics, and Dr Mullinix, who looks set to build on the strong foundations laid by Evans, says the company's goal is to follow these up shortly with a third ingredient.

The emerging field of nutrigenomics looks at how food bioactives can modulate gene expression in humans and potentially ward off particular diseases or conditions.

In an interview with NutraIngredients-USA.com last November, Dr Evans revealed that the first ingredients to emerge from WellGen's pipeline are to be theaflavins from black tea and orange peel extract.

That plan is still on track. “Our goal is to commercialize a very powerful technology and build an intellectual property estate around that,” Dr Mullinix said last week. According to Mullinix, WellGen has four or five issued patents to date and 20 pending applications.

WellGen's black tea ingredient is currently in human studies for turning off a number of genes involved in inflammation and its orange peel ingredient is being tested in non-human clinical trials for its potential to support weight control.

“I have no doubt the power of nutrigenomic technology will be validated,” said Dr Mullinix.

The company is targeting its ingredients for both functional foods and dietary supplements and hopes to access the mainstream food market.

“We are having ongoing discussions with food companies,” said Dr Mullinix, who indicated WellGen wants to enter into big partnerships so as to maximize value, applications and technology.

WellGen was spun off from Rutgers University in 1997 and in 1999 CEO Dr David Evans became the first employee. The company now has eight full-time employees, but contracts out to Rutgers, giving it a lot of leverage in terms of access to researchers, according to Mullinix.

Prior to joining WellGen, Dr Mullinix ran a private consultancy and was the founder, president and CEO of Synaptic Pharmaceutical Corporation, a role she says will help her in her current position.

”I've built a company from being the first employee,” said Mullinix.

As former vice-provost for Colombia University, Dr. Mullinix has experience in the commercial development of university intellectual property assets.

“Dr. Mullinix's deep knowledge in the field of biotechnology and experience in intellectual property will be instrumental in helping the Company achieve its goals of bringing its unique product benefits to market,” said WellGen chairman Richard Laster.

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