Israeli start-up Solveat is developing next-generation products by integrating active herbal compositions into foods. Chief executive Udi Peretz and scientific lead Dr Zakhar Nudelman talk to NutritionInvestor about using food as medicine and its market potential
By Murielle Gonzalez
Solveat is an early-stage Israeli foodtech company with patent-pending technology to create functional foods to prevent disease and promote health. The company’s first prototype is a bar of chocolate that lowers blood sugar.
The business idea began in late 2017, when co-founder and chief executive Udi Peretz consulted Chinese medicine doctors regarding his prediabetic condition. “The recommended treatment involved a long and complicated process of preparing and drinking extracts, involving a large quantity of Chinese herbs,” he explains, noting that a significant improvement was achieved after a consistent treatment period.
At the time, Peretz was the chief executive of beauty and personal care supplier Green Mountain Biotech China, and recognised the whole experience was unsuitable for Western consumers due to a general lack of accessibility to such knowledge and quality herbs, the difficult preparation, and the unpleasant taste.
He then decided to join forces with co-founders herbalist Tal Naveh and Chinese professors Xia Long and He Yuxin to establish Solveat. The company was formed in January 2018 with the mission to introduce all the benefits of Chinese and herbal medicine in a new, high-standard and accessible way – as a part of ordinary food consumers love.
Solveat has produced a chocolate prototype and both the technological and business approaches have been recently evaluated by the Israel Innovation Authority, which granted the start-up with initial funds to develop the technology further.
The company has also filed for a provisional patent for the first herbal composition designed to reduce blood sugar levels, as well as for its use in food.
Healthy food trends
That people have turned to food as an elixir of health against the backdrop of Covid-19 is no coincidence. Many cultures and societies have seen food as medicine – for centuries. Undoubtedly, the corona pandemic has exacerbated the trend, opening opportunities for the functional food market. Last year this market was valued at $160 billion with a compound annual growth rate of 8%.
On the consumer front, the numbers are also promising. Innova Consumer Survey 2020 revealed that six-out-of-ten global consumers are increasingly looking for food and beverage products that support their immune health – and 54% claimed to have spent time educating themselves on ingredients and procedures that could boost their immune health in the wake of concerns over Covid-19.
People surveyed admitted to choosing foods naturally high in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) for an immunity boost. The survey also revealed an increase in interest in botanical ingredients in particular.
Looking beyond consumer interest in immunity, functional foods and ingredients are all around us. Many of us crave our morning coffee for stimulation, for example. And spices such as cinnamon, ginger, pepper, turmeric, and many other ingredients, have widely recognised therapeutic effects on our bodies.
Solveat: Food as medicine
Hippocrates is reputed to have said “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food”. Although there’s no proof he actually ever said it, Hippocrates’s philosophy was the first school of thought to recognise the complementarity of nutrition and pharmacology.
In the functional food space, products on the market intended for prediabetics are made from ingredients with a low glycemic index (low effect on blood sugar levels) and/or reduced sugar and carbohydrates.
Solveat argues these foods are mainly meant to do no harm to the prediabetic consumer, but they are actively lacking beneficial properties – they don’t cause harm, but don’t offer any health benefit either.
Dr Zakhar Nudelman, scientific lead at Solveat, explains the company wants to produce foods designed to improve a specific medical condition rather than being permissible or harmless.
“Our first product is a chocolate containing a proprietary herbal composition intended to lower blood sugar levels in prediabetic individuals,” he says. “Prediabetes, is a highly prevalent medical condition, affecting from 15% to 35% of the population, while in the US alone one-out-of-three adults is prediabetic, representing 88 million people.”
Chief executive Peretz says product development in the pipeline include products that target and improve high-impact medical conditions. “Following prediabetes, we are planning to approach additional major indication, such as high blood pressure and hyperlipidemia,” he says.
Nudelman, a pharmacist with an MBA in biomedical management from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says Solveat’s expertise is based on decades of research and clinical practice using Chinese medicine. “Our herbal composition contains defined active ingredients that are beneficial and act synergistically to alleviate and reduce disease symptom,” he says.
In the case of herbal composition for prediabetes, Solveat has confirmed its safety and efficacy in preclinical models and a field clinical study. The chocolate prototype was tested on 12 prediabetic volunteers and demonstrated a statistically significant decrease of up to 31% in blood sugar levels with regular use.
Solveat is now planning a fully controlled clinical trial. Peretz reveals the company is currently self-funded albeit supported by the Israel Innovation Authority. Peretz is actively seeking match funding to initiate cooperation with a key industrial partner.
“Solveat intends to introduce the first developed product by entering a small-scale self-commercialisation process with a longer-term intention of partnering with key industry players via a business-to-business model,” Peretz explains.
The science behind functional foods
We see many products in the market claiming functional properties, but how can food prevent and treat illness?
Nudelman explains that our diet contains numerous nutritional and non-nutritional compounds that directly or via their metabolites can interact with pharmacological relevant receptors.
“For example, tomatoes and potatoes contain gamma-aminobutyric acid – or GABA – in pharmacological active amounts. The amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine can become rate-limiting as precursors in the formation and activity of serotonin and dopamine, respectively.”
Another example that Nudelman points out is that fatty acids represent an important class of nutrients. “Next to their role as energy source and components of cell membranes, several members of this highly diverse class serve as precursors for pivotal signalling molecules, and their dietary ratio codetermines the pro-/anti-inflammatory balance. This includes the short chain fatty acids released by the intestinal microbiota.”
The nitrate present in beetroot and green leafy vegetables is another element proving the prowess of food as medicine.
“Nitrate is reduced to nitric oxide (NO) through an entero-salivary nitrate-nitrite-NO pathway that involves the oral microbiome. Nitric oxide plays an important role in vascular tone and integrity and is a vital molecule for cardiovascular health,” says Nudelman, noting increasing nitrate intake through the diet or via specific food products like beetroot juice is a potential strategy to increase NO bioavailability.
Nudelman argues that compared to nutrients, the number of bioactive non-nutritional components in foods, in particular from plants, is multiple. “Several modern-times drugs have evolved from these natural molecules,” he concludes.
Date published: 24 February 2021