Media Coverage

Sabinsa: Linking Science and Tradition for Human Health

Whole Foods Magazine: August 1998

Looking at Sabinsa Corporation today, seeing it as one of the natural products industry’s more prominent suppliers of both standardized herbal extracts and nutritional fine chemicals, recognizing that it has facilities in both New Jersey and Utah (as well as an exclusive working arrangement with a large, modern manufacturing operation in India), knowing that its principal policy makers and product development people combine decades of Western scientific training and experience with centuries of background in Eastern and alternative medical traditions, it is sometimes easy to forget that this rapidly growing, financially sound business entity started out just 10 years ago...and that its founder, Muhammed Majeed, Ph.D., was thwarted in his first effort to get the company off the ground.

Majeed’s original intent was to create a pharmaceutical company, not one devoted to natural remedies. Born in Trivandrum, a city in southern India with a population of more than a half-million, he had come to the U.S. in 1974 after earning an undergraduate degree in pharmacy from Kerala University. He was 23 years old and had the grand sum of $8 in his pocket when he arrived, that being the maximum amount that emigres were allowed to remove from India at the time.

A willing worker, Majeed landed a maintenance job with a relatively small Chicago, IL-based pharmaceutical manufacturer, switched over to the production side and quickly worked his way up so that he was in charge of manufacturing operations in the short span of three years. Then, in 1977, he moved to the East Coast to go to work in Pfizer’s R&D department and to continue his education.

Majeed lived and worked in New Jersey and commuted more than 80 miles in each direction so that he could attend Long Island University’s Arnold and Marie Schwartz School of Pharmacy. He earned his master’s degree in industrial pharmacy in 1980.

The following year, Majeed took a job as senior research pharmacist and manager of special projects for Carter-Wallace, located in Cranbury. By 1984, he had been promoted to a post where he headed up all product development. He was, in fact, the only person in the history of the company to serve in that position without having yet earned a Ph.D.

It took Majeed until 1986 to fill in this last gap in his education, and by that time he was no longer working for Carter-Wallace. In 1985, he had accepted a job with Lakewood, NJ-based Paco Pharmaceuticals. At this company, he says, the focus was on the formulation of sterile products.

With this background, it isn’t surprising that Majeed targeted the pharmaceutical industry when, in 1988, he resigned from Paco and struck out on his own, using Sabinsa, his wife’s name, as the appellation for the new company.

A Change in Plans

Nevertheless, "best laid plans" in business, as in other aspects In this instance, a balky Food and Drug Administration (FDA) significantly slowed the introduction of Majeed’s first intended product—a medicine that would help people withdraw from addictive narcotics.

When it got to the point where he needed a product in the marketplace just to generate some revenue for his fledgling company, Majeed developed a vitamin product—slow-release niacin granules—that was intended to maintain levels throughout the day and reduce flushing.

Even for this product he had a medical benefit in mind—cholesterol control. But he also knew that he couldn’t compete on a dollar-for-dollar basis with the deep pockets of the giant drug manufacturers. So he started to look at some of the plant products from his native India. The elements of the Ayurvedic tradition were almost second nature to him. As a youngster, he had been treated and seen others treated by practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine.

As Majeed explored various aspects of Ayurvedic medicine and sought to mesh them with his scientific training and his interest in cholesterol control, he found a plant that yielded a gum resin which is "the starting point" for many natural-content products that aim to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. It is from this guggul plant (Commiphora mukul) that Sabinsa ultimately launched its flagship trademarked product—Gugulipid.

Majeed, now in his mid-40s, recalls his breakthrough sale of the new ingredient—to Nature’s Herbs, a TwinLab company with headquarters in American Fork, UT. David Blechman, Twin’s founder and then chief executive officer, his son Steve, who was involved with product development, and Steve Welling, who continues as president of Nature’s Herbs, were the primary movers in accepting the new material.

Following Nature’s Herbs’ successful launch of Gugulipid, that company sought to add more products grounded in Ayurveda to its line. Sabinsa followed up with Boswellin, another trademarked product, which is derived from the "Dhup" tree (Boswellia serrata) and which is known as "the anti-inflammatory phytonutrient," and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), which sometimes is referred to as Indian ginseng and which has been used for generations as an adaptogen or restorative.

Standardized Extracts

What distinguished these early Sabinsa products from some of the other herbal products then prominent in the marketplace, says Majeed, is the fact that they were all standardized extracts, meaning that the potency of the active ingredients could be assured from one batch to the next.

Even today, Majeed continues, between 80% and 90% of Sabinsa’s herbal products are standardized extracts. "The only exception to this is when a customer tells the company it wants to fill an entire capsule with material from a given plant species and the standardized extract doesn’t have sufficient volume to make this happen. In these cases, we grind up otherwise unused parts of the plant and provide our client with fillers taken from the same sort of plant that supplied the active ingredient."

Majeed explains his desire for isolating standardized extracts as an expression of his belief in science and his training in pharmacy. "Human nature," he says, "is such that it wants to know and be able to identify the active principle that makes a product achieve certain results. If you later determine that the whole plant works better than the extract, you can always go back and reassemble it later on."

Majeed says that his years in research taught him the value of persistence. "Our company’s mission might best be described by the researcher’s credo: be committed to what you are doing."

According to Majeed, the method of research involves focus on a target, the expending of all efforts to achieve that target and the understanding that if you fail (which is inevitable at times) you will learn from that failure.

"Persistence pays off," he insists and offers the following as evidence: "We spent four years researching the safe and proper manufacturing aspects of selenium in the form of L(+) Selenomethionine. We believe this to be the most biologically available form for human nutrition. It was not until 1995 that we got our product into the marketplace. Yet today we are the largest volume [producer] of this substance in the world."

What distinguished these early Sabinsa products from some of the other herbal products then prominent in the marketplace, says Majeed, is the fact that they were all standardized extracts, meaning that the potency of the active ingredients could be assured from one batch to the next.

Even today, Majeed continues, between 80% and 90% of Sabinsa’s herbal products are standardized extracts. "The only exception to this is when a customer tells the company it wants to fill an entire capsule with material from a given plant species and the standardized extract doesn’t have sufficient volume to make this happen. In these cases, we grind up otherwise unused parts of the plant and provide our client with fillers taken from the same sort of plant that supplied the active ingredient."

Majeed explains his desire for isolating standardized extracts as an expression of his belief in science and his training in pharmacy. "Human nature," he says, "is such that it wants to know and be able to identify the active principle that makes a product achieve certain results. If you later determine that the whole plant works better than the extract, you can always go back and reassemble it later on."

Majeed says that his years in research taught him the value of persistence. "Our company’s mission might best be described by the researcher’s credo: be committed to what you are doing."

According to Majeed, the method of research involves focus on a target, the expending of all efforts to achieve that target and the understanding that if you fail (which is inevitable at times) you will learn from that failure.

"Persistence pays off," he insists and offers the following as evidence: "We spent four years researching the safe and proper manufacturing aspects of selenium in the form of L(+) Selenomethionine. We believe this to be the most biologically available form for human nutrition. It was not until 1995 that we got our product into the marketplace. Yet today we are the largest volume [producer] of this substance in the world."

The People of Sabinsa

At Sabinsa, as in every successful enterprise and activity—from organizing a dinner party to winning the Super Bowl—every member of the team contributes to the overall achievement. Only a lack of space, therefore, prohibits this article from turning a spotlight on each and every Sabinsa employee.

Nevertheless, there are some individuals, in addition to Muhammed Majeed, Ph.D., the founder and president whose story is told in the accompanying article, who cannot be overlooked. Some description of what they do and how they serve the company is essential to understanding how Sabinsa has reached the position it enjoys today.

Part 2: Pulsing with Products

As an industry supplier of raw materials and ingredients for use in its customers’ branded products, Sabinsa Corporation pursues two major product tracks:

"The same kind of focus and attention to detail goes into all of our development work," says Muhammed Majeed, Ph.D., the company’s founder and president. "As a researcher, you have to be able to look at existing materials in new ways. For example, the exoskeletons of shrimp—garbage to some—are the starting material for manufacturing glucosamine sulfate in the way that we produce it. Thus, one man’s garbage may be another man’s treasure. The idea, of course, is to make the most effective use of the materials that are available."

"There is no such thing as a waste material," adds Todd Norton, executive vice president. "If you have sufficient understanding and the resources to pursue your idea, you can probably find a productive use for almost any material." For example, he cites solanesol, a by-product of tobacco, which is Sabinsa’s starting point for coenzyme Q-10.

Norton points out that the company has utilized the following slogan—"Our Innovation Is Your Answer"—not merely as a sales tool, but as an internal motivator to spur its management team and 35-plus U.S. employees, as well as the more than 400 people at Sabina’s India-based affiliate SAMI Labs Ltd., into finding creative solutions for clients’ needs.

Commitment to Quality

Meanwhile, Majeed emphasizes Sabinsa’s mission, which he describes as "a commitment to high-quality standardized extracts and equally high-quality nutritional fine chemicals." This commitment, he says, runs all the way through every operation the company undertakes—from R&D through production, distribution, technical support and marketing. And, he adds, it is evident in every product Sabinsa sells.

He notes that the company has been licensed by the state of New Jersey to distribute both drug and nutritional products. In addition, he says, Sabinsa adheres strictly to good manufacturing practices (GMPs) at all of its facilities throughout the nation and the world. These include:

What Sabinsa Offers

Among the nearly threescore products Sabinsa has in its overall product arsenal, there are some that deserve particular attention. This select group includes:

Bioperine: It’s not just what you eat, but what you absorb that counts. This seemingly obvious, but sometimes overlooked, principle illuminates the reasoning behind Bioperine, a patented product that has been clinically proven to enhance nutrient bioavailability. According to Sabinsa, Bioperine consists of the powdered extract obtained from black pepper (Piper nigrum), standardized for a minimum 98% of the alkaloid piperine. Piperine is the active ingredient in black pepper. It is what gives pepper its unique pungency and has made it prized as a spice for more than 3,000 years.

It is believed that Alexander the Great was the first Westerner to have ever tasted pepper. When he marched to the Punjab region in northern India in 326 B.C., he is said to have sampled it in some food under the local name of pippali. The name was changed in Persia some time later, when King Darius had trouble with this pronunciation and issued a royal edict that it be called pipari. Under any name, however, its sharp taste was much appreciated. Remember, these were times when people commonly ate rotting meat (especially during the summer) and fish that had been out of the water for quite a while. The power of black pepper was such that it could mask some odious flavors and trigger a remarkable warming sensation in the gut.

More recently, scientists have discovered that it not only makes food more palatable, but enables nutrients in supplemental form as well as in food to be more readily absorbed and put to use.

In support of this thesis, Sabinsa cites a number of scientific experiments, including clinical studies at New York University Hospital. When Bioperine was administered orally to healthy humans in a dose of 5 mg per day, the serum levels of different tested nutrients rose significantly: fat-soluble beta carotene was increased by 60%; vitamin B-6 levels in the blood went up 2.5 times; selenium (in the form of selenomethionine) levels improved by 30%; and CoQ-10 in blood serum levels also increased by 30%. In each case, these were comparative studies in which results were measured against those of a control group in which the subjects received the nutrient supplements alone.

Attempting to provide a simplified explanation of the way in which Bioperine works, Sabinsa turns to the following analogy: think of the body as a house with different rooms. The den (the brain and nerves) is for fun and leisure. The kitchen (the stomach) is for eating and digestion. The bathroom and laundry room (the colon, kidneys, liver and spleen) are for cleaning. In each of these "rooms" or body compartments, says Sabinsa, there are separate thermostats for adjusting or regulating temperature. What Bioperine does is to slightly increase the heat through a process known as thermogenesis. When this happens, the assimilation and utilization of ingested nutritional supplements become more complete or total, the company asserts.

Boswellin:

Boswellin, for which Sabinsa holds a registered trademark, is derived from the gum of the Boswellia serrata tree, which grows widely on dry hills throughout most of India, but which is more abundant in the northwest regions. The resin from this tree has been prized since ancient times, according to Sabinsa, and under the name frankincense was one of the three gifts of the magi presented to the infant Jesus. Today, the company says, the material continues to be valued, mostly for its promise in dealing with the inflammation generally associated with arthritis.

The tapping of the oleogum from the Boswellia tree occurs in the late fall when transverse incisions are made in the trunk and the bark is removed in between these incisions to allow the sap to ooze out of the wound. Once exposed to air, though, the exudate becomes gum-like in consistency. The resinous material is sieved and sold as "Salai Guggal" in various commercial grades. These various grades are then sold in numerous Indian bazaars or marketplaces to manufacturers of incense (Aggarbattis), local perfumes (attars) and medicinal products.

Sabinsa says its Boswellin starts out from the highest grade of Salai Guggal material available and is then further purified through an extraction process that yields a product standardized for a minimum 65% boswellic acids, the active constituents in Boswellin.

According to Sabinsa, a study conducted by Regional Research Lab (RRL) in Jammu, India, involving a mixed group of 175 rheumatoid arthritis patients, ages 5 through 75, resulted in 97% reporting moderate to excellent improvement. The treatment was effective in reducing pain, swollen joints and morning stiffness; grip strength and physical performance also improved. None of these patients complained of any undesirable side effects. The abatement of symptoms was seen after three to four weeks of treatment initiation.

The benefits accruing from use of Boswellin seemed so positive in this research that it led a Sabinsa spokesperson to speculate that had the product been available to the likes of the Egyptian pharaohs (in whose remains evidence of arthritis has been detected) or to England’s Henry VIII (who is believed to have suffered severely from gout), "perhaps the course of some history might have been changed for the better."

Gugulipid:

Gugulipid is an extract from the sap of the tree Commiphora mukul (wightii), which grows in rocky and rough land in warm and semiarid areas of India. Research indicates that Gugulipid, the material for which Sabinsa holds a registered trademark, is standardized for Guggulsterones Z and E and has significant lipid-lowering properties. The company cites more than two dozen clinical trials in which the material not only lowered total serum cholesterol and plasma triglycerides, but also greatly reduced the so-called "bad" cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). In the meantime, it appeared to increase "good" cholesterol (HDL cholesterol). Sabinsa notes that this should be welcome news to those who worry about their heart arteries or livers becoming clogged up with too many fat deposits.

The company says that Gugulipid, which is a company trademark, works by resetting the body’s "fat thermostat" a few degrees higher. All of this action takes place in the thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland that sits atop the windpipe at the base of the neck.

According to Sabinsa, when Indian scientists administered an isolated ketosteroid from gum guggul to animal models, they noticed "a significant increase in all the thyroid functions" of these rodents. And slightly accelerated thyroid activity with Gugulipid means an increase in the body’s overall metabolic rate or heightened internal combustion of stored fat.

In a double-blind, crossover clinical study involving humans, Gugulipid administered daily for four weeks to 60 overweight patients resulted in a significant fall in total serum lipids, cholesterol, triglycerides and beta lipoproteins, while no significant changes were observed in these parameters in the placebo-receiving group.

Curcumin C3 Complex:

Curcuminoids are plant nutrients (also called phytonutrients) that are found in turmeric root (Curcuma Longa). This is the chief ingredient in curry powder that gives the mixture its yellowish-orange color.

According to Sabinsa, its Curcumin C3 Complex, which is a registered trademark, refers to a unique composition of bisdemethoxycurcumin, demethoxycurcumin and curcumin.

Sabinsa says there is a patent pending on the material for its newly defined "Bioprotectant" properties, helping to prevent and intervene in the formation of free radicals in food and body tissues. In other words, curcuminoids are antioxidants.

Besides their antioxidant properties, however, the curcuminoid compounds also manifest anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic and anti-cancer activities.

Curcuminoids also have manifested definite action within the liver. For one thing, they protect this vital organ from swelling, hardening and infection. For another, they keep blood, which constantly passes through it, flowing evenly; this, in turn, allows better detoxification of the entire organism. Bear in mind that the liver is the major detoxifying organ in the body.

Further, curcuminoids appear to have antibacterial, antiviral and antiparasitic effects.

L-(+)-Selenomethionine:

As Sabinsa’s president, Muhammed Majeed, and Vladimir Badmaev, M.D., Ph.D., its vice president of medical/scientific affairs, point out, "The role of selenium supplementation as an essential microelement for human health is becoming increasingly important because selenium deficiency in the food chain is now well-recognized." If soil is depleted of selenium, the same will be true for the crops grown in it and the livestock raised on it. Sooner, rather than later, human nutrition will feel the effects.

Thus, selenium supplementation must be viewed virtually as a necessity, and this makes the question of selenium safety a matter for serious consideration. Remember, say Majeed and Badmaev, "selenium may have toxic effects at levels only four to five times the level normally ingested in the human diet."

The Sabinsa executives note that a discussion of the biological effectiveness of seleno-organic (L-selenotmethionine) compounds vs. inorganic selenium (sodium selenite) is at the heart of the selenium safety issue. They contend that L-selenomethionine is recognized as the safer form and that the role of methionine in aiding the safe metabolism of selenium is part of that safety mechanism. "Methionine yields in the body S-adenosylmethionine, which provides methyl groups for the sequential methylation of toxic products of selenium metabolism like hydrogen selenide. An additional benefit of methionine, an essential amino acid, [when] supplemented to the body, is that it may provide methyl groups for the synthesis of such compounds as phosphatidylcholine, epinephrine and melatonin."

Majeed and Badmaev further emphasize: "Importantly, only the complex of methionine chemically bound to selenium can exert the biological properties of L-selenomethionine. A simple dry blend mixture of sodium selenite and methionine may be both biologically inactive and toxic."

Citing studies that have appeared in such respected journals as Lancet, the American Journal of Epidemiology and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the Sabinsa executives acknowledge that both organic and inorganic forms of selenium have a synergistic effect in lowering the risk of cancer when administered with vitamin A, vitamin E and beta carotene. "On the other hand," they say, "any protective effect of sodium selenite against mammary carcinoma in rats was nullified by supplementation with vitamin C. It has been postulated that sodium selenite is reduced by vitamin C to elemental selenium which is poorly absorbed by the body in that form. It is significant to note that the protective effect of L-selenomethionine was not affected by vitamin C administration."

Glucosamine Sulfate:

Back in the time of our grandparents, the word rheumatism was applied to a whole host of medical problems that were associated with pain or other symptoms related in some way to the musculoskeletal system. Today, we have fancier, more specific designations for these ills—e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and articular pain—but it can still hurt like the dickens.

When stabbing sensations assault the nervous system or joint tenderness and swelling severely limit movement, an individual may feel as helpless as the Tinman before Dorothy found the oil can. In the human body, a chondroprotective agent like glucosamine sulfate is the lubricant we need to keep inflammation and stiffness at bay.

According to Sabinsa, glucosamine sulfate is a naturally occurring simple sugar component that is, in turn, the building block of larger complex sugars called glycosaminoglycans. These glycosaminoglycans form the gel-like ground substance found in connective tissue, mucous secretions and synovial fluid surrounding the joints.

The company states: "The uniqueness of glucosamine sulfate for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other arthritis disorders is that it a) works promptly, b) in a simple way and c) with minimal or no side effects. After all, it’s what the body is used to and produces itself."

Sabinsa cites one study in which 80 patients with confirmed osteoarthritis received either 1.5 grams of glucosamine sulfate or a placebo every day, in three divided oral doses, for one month. Although symptoms of joint pain, joint tenderness and swelling and restrictions of both active and passive movement decreased in both groups, the relief was both greater and faster for the group taking glucosamine sulfate. The subjects receiving the supplement experienced a 73% improvement in overall symptoms, compared with 41% for those on placebo. Also, those taking glucosamine sulfate indicated that the time it took for them to realize a 50% reduction in symptoms was just 20 days. This compared with 36 days for the control group.

Other Needs, Other Products

While the six materials described above are among those most in demand currently, Sabinsa also has dozens of others, ranging in nature from adaptogens like ashwagandha (sometimes called the Indian ginseng), to cold remedies like zinc monomethionine, to weight management products like Citrin, which is taken from the rind of the fruit of Garcinia cambogia and then standardized at a minimum of 50% (-) -hydroxycitric acid.

All of these products are well-established and currently represent revenue-producing lines for Sabinsa. In addition, as might be expected, the company has numerous materials that are in various stages of development.These include standardized herbs from countries other than India, such as kava, saw palmetto, pygeum, yohimbe, etc.; delivery systems, such as slow-release formulations and soft extracts for filling softgel capsules; and "cosmeceuticals" such as tetrahydrocurcumin, a topical skin care antioxidant. In addition, the company is looking at combination herbs with an eye to developing a database that will cover information about compatibilty, efficacy and toxicity.

Most of these are not yet fully formed as Sabinsa products, but they are areas to watch for the future. Meanwhile, there also are other products that are further along in the pipeline. For example, one of the newest trademarked products on Sabinsa’s shelves is Fenufiberstm, an herbal material derived from fenugreek seeds. According to Lakshmi Prakash, Ph.D., senior research scientist with Sabinsa, fenugreek is an herb that has been used for several hundred years as a cooking ingredient in both the Far East and Europe. Prakash says that it adds both spicy flavor and bulk (because of its high fiber content) to the recipes in which it is used.

"We make two products from fenugreek—" says Prakash, "Fenufibers, which possess blood sugar-lowering properties, and Fenusterolstm, which contains furostanol saponins that can help support anabolic muscle growth and therefore be useful in sports nutrition."

Noting that Fenufibers had been available for less than six months at the time this interview was conducted, Prakash said it had been an instant hit with Sabinsa’s customers—the manufacturers who use it in branded products. Unlike many of Sabinsa’s materials that wind up in dietary supplements offered as tablets or capsules, Fenufibers is being sold more as a food ingredient—for use in products such as soup mixes, vegetable juice mixes and cookie mixes.

Says Prakash: "The key is they are useful to any company that is interested in getting into a food product that has true functional, nutritional value. This may help to open a new pathway to the market for Sabinsa."

In explanation of how fenugreek can impact diabetes, Prakash offers the following, taken from a relatively new Sabinsa booklet entitled, Diabetes: Its Etiology and Control with Ayurvedic Herbs:

"A high-fiber diet is associated with the improved ability to handle blood sugar. In the presence of a high-fiber diet, the cells are more sensitive to insulin and an increase in the number of insulin receptor sites occurs or, alternatively, there is a stimulation of the cells’ ability to burn glucose. Certain dietary fibers reduce the rate of food passage through the intestine and glucose absorption into the bloodstream, thereby helping to control the increase in postprandial blood sugar levels. High-fiber diets are associated with less glycosuria, lower-fasting blood sugar levels and lower insulin requirements. Water-retaining fibers, especially the mucilaginous compounds, such as the gel fiber present in fenugreek seeds, reduce the rate of glucose absorption and may also delay gastric emptying, thereby preventing the rise in blood sugar levels following a meal."

The Sabinsa literature cites studies to show that fenugreek fibers have both a hypoglycemic and a hypolipidemic effect. The former can be seen in their capacity to delay carbohydrate absorption, thus reducing insulin requirements. In addition, it has been speculated, fenugreek fibers may help improve peripheral insulin sensitivity.

As for the hypocholesterolemic effect of fenugreek fiber, the Sabinsa booklet has this to say: "It has been shown that the gel fraction of fenugreek fiber contains galactomannans which increase the viscosity of the digesta, thereby reducing serum cholesterol levels. This is achieved through the inhibition of cholesterol absorption in the small intestine and also the inhibition of bile acid reabsorption in the terminal ileum."

The Sabinsa booklet also highlights other herbs that appear to be of value to diabetic individuals, including standardized extracts of Gymnema sylvestre and Momordica charantia.

Part 3: Science and Education

In the growing fields. In the greenhouses. In the laboratories. Possibly in the library. At any given time, both in the United States and in India, these are the places where it should be possible to find one or more employees of Piscataway, NJ-based Sabinsa Corporation or its manufacturing affiliate, SAMI Chemicals & Extracts, Ltd., of Bangalore, India.

As Muhammed Majeed, Ph.D., founder and president, likes to remind listeners, "At Sabinsa, quality is not something we test for at the end of the process, but something we build into the product from the start."

Noting that about 85% of the products that the company sells in the U.S. are products that actually were introduced by Sabinsa, Majeed says, "In some instances, we control quality by providing seed material developed by SAMI in company greenhouses. We actually bring the seeds to the farmers who are under contract to us for various botanicals, such as coleus, chili (cayenne) and turmeric."

Sabinsa also sends procurement teams into the growing fields where they can check on plant health and activity prior to harvest. "They do spot-tests and approve the yield even before the material is bundled," Majeed explains.

The next step following harvest, says Sabinsa’s founder, is delivery to one of the company-controlled processing facilities where components are sampled and tested before being placed into production.

Majeed emphasizes that periodic testing continues throughout the production effort. This is all part of process control.

"Our objective at all times is to build quality into the product, and this is not always easy to do." Majeed expounds: "Individual plant organisms, even of the same species, have different strengths and different levels of activity. The time of year a plant is harvested, the weather, the maturity of the plant—all these have an effect on what a specific leaf or root or flower will give you in terms of efficacy."

Majeed continues: "The true complexity of natural products can be seen when you source the same material from different regions of a large country like India. That makes you a believer in the great power of Mother Nature."

Bringing Science to Bear

In attempting to harness this power of Nature in the service of human health, Sabinsa relies heavily on the contributions of science and technology. Its principal product development people all have advanced degrees: Majeed is a Ph.D. pharmacist from St. John’s University; Vladimir Badmaev, vice president of medical/scientific affairs, is a medical doctor with a Ph.D. in immunopharmacology from Bialystok Medical School; Raj Bammi, president of R&D and quality control, has a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California-Davis and more than 30 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry; and numerous other employees have extensive and specialized training.

"Although some of our products are built on the tradition of Ayurveda, they are not traditional Ayurvedic products," says Majeed. "Rather, they are new, laboratory-developed, scientifically researched and usually standardized products."

The key is standardization of active principles, according to Badmaev. "This is what is bringing new respect and acceptance for Ayurveda today," he says.

A big part of his job, Bammi relates, is to ensure that Sabinsa products are consistent. This can only be achieved, he says, if procedures are documented and reproducible. Quality control testing is essential, and it must utilize sophisticated, sensitive, up-to-date techniques and equipment.

According to Bammi, who maintains offices in both Bangalore, India and Princeton, NJ, "Those of us who grew up in the Ayurvedic tradition and then acquired scientific training found that the old remedies really are effective, but they are not always equally effective because of a lack of standardization." He suggests that by marrying the two—the ancient lore with the objective science—perhaps a new kind of medicine might be created—a system that could be called "allo-vedic" medicine.

The Role of Education

This push toward the new is something that many in the industry have come to expect from Sabinsa. As Majeed says, "There is a general appreciation of our R&D capability. What is sometimes less well recognized is our dedication to education, marketing and sales—all of which are necessary to sustain the R&D approach."

In the area of education, for example, Todd Norton, the company’s executive vice president, points with pride to the firm’s "Sabinsa on Wheels" program. Designed as a series of portable seminars, these attracted large and distinguished audiences representing a broad segment of industry disciplines. The original series, launched in 1995, traveled to more than 15 cities, including Salt Lake City, UT, Los Angeles, CA, and New York, NY, to name a few.

Currently, the program is in its second phase. Norton explains that the initial effort was aimed at informing a wide swath of industry opinion-makers of the scientific capabilities of Sabinsa. In the second stage, now under way, he says, "individual manufacturers of branded supplements are asking us to come in and make in-house presentations for their laboratory, production and marketing people. We’ve been doing these all over, and not just in the U.S., but in Japan, Korea, Italy, Denmark and the U.K., as well."

As Norton sees it, the Sabinsa product line and approach to the marketplace are "uniquely successful wherever they are taken—provided there is a basis of product understanding." Nevertheless, he says, at no time do any of the seminars stray into what might be considered a commercial zone: their sole purpose is "to inform anyone who cares to know about the uses and benefits of the specific ingredients being covered."

Norton points out that this information also is readily available on the Sabinsa Web site—www.sabinsa.com—and, he adds, company personnel are accustomed to fielding dozens of letters and telephone calls asking a host of questions. "Some of these come from retailers and consumers," says the marketing executive, "but more commonly they are from manufacturers and R&D people. We even get some inquiries from research scientists working in university settings." In fact, adds Norton, there has been correspondence between the company and Dr. Christiaan Barnard, of heart transplant fame. Barnard currently suffers from arthritis, for which he is using Sabinsa’s Boswellin, a trademarked anti-inflammatory product derived from Boswellia serrata extract.

Beyond these educational efforts, Sabinsa also has mounted seminars for attendees at national trade shows, and its key people have contributed to numerous books on such subjects as turmeric, capsaicin, Boswellin and Citrin (a trademarked herbal, hydroxycitric acid-rich weight management product derived from Garcinia cambogia).

Part 4: Looking Ahead

Muhammed Majeed, Ph.D., the founder and president of Piscataway, NJ-based Sabinsa Corporation, beams proudly when he tells you that, of the 50 leading nutritional health products during the 1990s, his firm was the originator of perhaps 75%.

That’s an impressive record of innovation for a company that was not much more than a gleam in its founder’s eye until 1988, a mere 10 years ago.

Today, with facilities on two continents, almost 450 employees working for it or its affiliate, SAMI Chemicals & Extracts, more than $20 million in sales and recognition ranging from the Inc. and Technology listings of the top 500 companies to receipt of the 1995 Presidential Award for Quality and Innovation from the president of India, Sabinsa can bask in the glory of a vibrant and dynamic first decade.

Now, what about tomorrow? Certainly, the energy and creativity that has brought Sabinsa this far will not now be put aside.

Instead, the company may be expected to press forward with additional new products and educational initiatives.

According to Raj Bammi, Ph.D., who heads up R&D and quality control and who oversees the SAMI operation, "We are almost at a point [in Western cultures] where large numbers of physicians and health professionals will prescribe with equal enthusiasm either a natural or a synthetically derived pharmaceutical—provided that scientific data are available to back up the claims."

Meanwhile, Majeed, who is himself a trained pharmacist, predicts an expanded role for pharmaceutical manufacturers in the natural products industry of the 21st century. This is not altogether a bad thing, he reasons. He believes that at first these giants will confine themselves to some of the industry’s best sellers. Later on, however, he expects them to pump research dollars into the market, which almost certainly would result not only in new products but in new applications for existing products as well.

He gives the following example of what happened with Citrin K, the patent pending water soluble version of Sabinsa’s well-known weight management product, Citrin. According to Majeed, researchers at George Washington University have discovered that Citrin K has an effect on lipid synthesis of cancer cells, which is essential for cell survival. In other words, a product initially devised to assist in weight loss may have a spillover effect into helping control the growth of cancer. While merely preliminary, this provocative finding is the kind of development that may escalate once big dollars are poured into this industry. As Majeed sees it, there are exciting times ahead, and he is determined that Sabinsa will play a significant role in them.