As part of the agreement, Unilever will commit to initial payments totalling approximately £6.5 million ($12.5 million) out of a potential total of £21 million ($40 million) in payments to Phytopharm. In addition Phytopharm will receive an undisclosed royalty on sales of all products containing the extract.
The extract of Hoodia gordonii, a South African plant, was licensed exclusively by Phytopharm from the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 1997. Phytopharm has been actively developing the extract for incorporation into weight loss products.
Unilever and Phytopharm will collaborate on a five stage research and development programme of safety and efficacy studies with a view to bringing new products to market. Unilever will also manage a separate agronomy programme and will support the international patent programme for the products.
Obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally, with more than 1 billion adults overweight - at least 300 million of them clinically obese - and is a major contributor to the global burden of chronic disease and disability (Source: World Health Organisation).
Commenting on today’s announcement, Dr. Richard Dixey, Chief Executive Officer of Phytopharm, said:
“We are delighted to enter into this agreement with the global leader in weight management products. Our partnership with Unilever supports the development of this product with milestones and a fully funded programme and we look forward to generating royalty income from our partner’s globally recognised brands.”
Dixey said the deal with Unilever meant the consumer product company would use its financial and legal weight to start prosecuting companies profiting from alleged hoodia products.
In an attempt to attract the growing anti-obesity market, several companies claim their products contain extracts of the rare plant.
“It is mainly fraud… but there are occasional companies that have ‘hoodia containing’ products and we are obviously going to start moving against them,” Dixey said.
“A very important element of this deal is to have the right partner who will help us enforce the patent,” he added.