Episode Topic: In this episode of NutraPreneur, we dive into the world of scientific innovation and nutraceutical product development with Dr. Leena Pradhan-Nabzdy, CEO and co-founder of Canomiks. Discover how genomics, bioinformatics-based supplements, and AI are transforming the nutraceutical industry.
Lessons You’ll Learn: You’ll gain insights into Dr. Leena’s journey from Harvard Medical School faculty member to CEO of Canomiks, where she applies her expertise in genomics and AI to create innovative products. Learn how Canomiks’ Product Superiority Platform empowers companies in the functional food, bioinformatics-based supplements, and beverage industries.
About Our Guest: Our guest, Dr. Leena Pradhan-Nabzdy, is a distinguished life science professional and co-founder of Canomiks. Her vision and expertise have led to groundbreaking advances in nutraceutical product development, bridging genomics, bioinformatics, and AI to ensure unique bioinformatics-based supplements.
Topics Covered: In this episode, we explore the unique approach of Canomiks, combining genomics, bioinformatics, and AI to develop safe and effective nutraceutical products. We delve into success stories showcasing Canomiks’ impact, discuss challenges and opportunities in the industry, and look ahead to future trends and innovations in genomics and AI for nutraceutical product development. Discover how data, technology, and scientific research are shaping the future of functional foods and dietary supplements. Lastly, Dr. Pradhan-Nabzdy shares Canomiks’ goals and projects on the horizon, dedicated to improving consumers’ health and well-being.
Our Guest: Leading the Future of Functional Foods with Dr. Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk
Dr. Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk, PhD, MBA, is a prominent figure in the world of nutraceuticals. Her journey from Harvard Medical School faculty member to the CEO and co-founder of Canomiks reflects her remarkable career. With a strong background in diabetes, cardiovascular research, and life sciences, she has been highly successful in securing substantial extramural funding for diverse research projects. Her passion for bridging the gap between academia and industry is evident in her commitment to developing alliances that drive scientific innovation.
As the CEO of Canomiks, Dr. Pradhan-Nabzdyk leverages her expertise in genomics, bioinformatics, and AI to empower companies in the functional food, dietary supplement, and beverage industries. Canomiks’ Product Superiority Platform, under her leadership, assures the safety and efficacy of products, with a long-term vision of making food as medicine a reality. Her contributions extend beyond product development, as she co-chairs the Women In Nutraceuticals Science committee, highlighting her dedication to promoting diversity in science and industry collaboration.
Dr. Pradhan-Nabzdyk’s educational background includes a Ph.D. in Pharmacology, an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management, and commercialization training from Harvard Business School. This unique blend of scientific knowledge and business acumen positions her as a leader in the nutraceutical sector, where her vision and expertise continue to drive innovation and excellence.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Money is money. You want to make money but always put people before profits. Your own people, your company people, but also your consumers. And then success will just automatically follow.
Bethany Jolley: Welcome to NutraPreneur the Nutra Industry podcast. I’m your host, food scientist, and nutraceuticals consultant Bethany Jolley. Each episode we’ll be exploring what it takes to thrive in the nutraceutical industry. From conversations with successful nutraceutical entrepreneurs to venture capitalists to tech executives whose innovations are reshaping the nutraceuticals industry. We explore the innovations and trends that are shaping the next generation of nutraceutical businesses.
Welcome back to NutraPreneur, the gateway to the latest breakthroughs in the nutraceutical industry. I’m your host, Bethany. Today, we’re honored to host Dr. Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk, and distinguished life science professional and faculty member of Harvard Medical School. She is the CEO and co-founder of Canomiks, a company that brings together genomics, bioinformatics, and AI to enable product excellence in the functional food, dietary supplement, and beverage industries. Welcome. It’s so great to have you today.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Thank you so much for having me. I’m absolutely looking forward to our conversation.
Bethany Jolley: So you have a remarkable background as a faculty member of Harvard Medical School. Could you share with us your journey that led you to become the CEO and co-founder of Canomiks, and really how you applied your vision for genomics, bioinformatics, and AI to the nutraceutical industry?
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Yeah. So as a background, my PhD is in pharmacology. I am only part-time faculty member now at Harvard since I took over this role as CEO for Canomiks. And on my academic side, a lot of the work that I have done is in the field of cardiovascular conditions and diseases, and using biomaterials and bioinformatics to understand or to solve the challenges. But Canomiks is a very different story. While I was doing my academic work, I started working with a lot of startups for some of the models I had developed, and I got interested in the startup world. So at some point, I decided to get an MBA. So I got an MBA from MIT Sloan and as I was wrapping that up, one of my collaborators from Harvard brought this idea around functional foods and functional beverages. He was doing a lot of work around alternative medicines, such as meditation and yoga, and its effects on clinical outcomes. And both him, that’s Dr. Manoj Bhasin and I, we both grew up in India. And when you grow up in India, alternative medicine is just part of your life. For example, anytime I had tummy ache, my grandma would say, oh, you should eat the ginger candy. Or if you had, if you got hurt, you put turmeric on the wound, or if you had sore throat, you would add turmeric to the milk and then drink that.
And so we grew up around those kind of solutions and those kind of alternative or traditional medicines. And then we started seeing this proliferation of companies in the Western world, especially in the US, using the same types of products or same types of ingredients. And we got curious around how does the Western world, and especially the consumers, make decisions around buying these products and what makes them go to a Whole Foods store or any other alternative medicine product store and buy these products. And what we soon realized is that the consumer, while some of them are well versed in the traditional medicine fields, most of them just make these decisions by word of mouth. Or nowadays it’s more around the influencers. It’s still what does your friend use? And then the friend tells the other friend. That was intriguing for us because science was, do people really ask about the scientific processes that are used around these products, but not directly signed? But what we learned was that consumers still want to know if there is any efficacy around these products, if these products are safe, where what kind of ingredients are used.
So the consumer, and especially nowadays, the consumer is getting more and more savvy and wants all of these answers. And then on the other hand, we talked to the companies in the industry and tried to understand how do they develop their products, what makes them come up with ashwagandha or turmeric or green-tea related products versus something else? And it is really market-driven, trend-driven, market-driven. But then there are also challenges around compliance, around supply chains, around product differentiation. And what we understood was science would really solve all of those issues for the companies. So long story short, we put our heads together again. My other two co-founders are Dr. Manoj Bhasin, who has a PhD in genomics, bioinformatics, and our third co-founder, Dr. Frank LoGerfo is a surgeon. So we come from a traditional pharma or academic clinical backgrounds. And this industry was new. So we thought the what we could bring to this industry is science. And that’s how we started Canomiks. We started providing services to this industry so that everybody would be able to use science in their product development. And I talked a lot about the consumer. And so the consumer can get science, science-focused, trusted products. So that’s the long answer to how we got started with Canomiks.
Bethany Jolley: Yes, I always find it fascinating to hear about how the different cultures and different regions are using all of these herbal remedies, and I think we are starting to see an uptick in that here in the US as well. But like you said, a lot of consumers or manufacturers or product developers may not understand the efficacy or the science behind those ingredients. So I think it’s great that you’re able to inform them a bit about that. Well, next, I did want to talk about how you are leveraging genomics and AI for product development. And have you applied your expertise in diabetes and cardiovascular research and life sciences to really shape these innovative products and solutions that are offered by Canomiks?
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Yeah. So I always give this example right! At the basis of life is a gene or your DNA or your genes. And a basis of a food product is an ingredient. And we really need to understand the relationship between those food ingredients and our genes to really then start thinking about the products that we can build so that the good genes will be what we call upregulated and the bad genes will be downregulated. So you really need to understand that fundamental relationship. The way that we think about Canomiks is again going back to some basic biology. So you’re born with the DNA that you inherit from your parents a set of genes from your mother, a set of genes from your father. And that basically forms your genomic fingerprint, okay! And it may come with specific traits and specific mutations and whatnot. But what you do every day and the environment that you live in, the stresses that you’re exposed to, really determine which of those genes get what in a simple words turned on, or which of those genes get turned off and to what degree, right? So that part is under our control. The genes that you’re born with, you can do much around it, unless you do some sort of gene editing or are exposed to some harmful chemicals or radiation where your genes can really get altered. But other than that, the way that you can, if you or I’m Indian woman and I’m just because who I am, my genetics predispose me to maybe getting diabetes at some stage in my life.
But how can I make sure that even though I have that probability of getting diabetes, how can I reduce that probability? Right. So the one way I can do that is by changing my habits, changing my lifestyle or the food habits, or taking some of these dietary or functional ingredients. We know that a lot of these work from our ancient traditional medicines ayurveda or traditional Chinese medicine has been used for centuries, right? We know it works. People have used them. But what we can do with Canomiks or the latest technologies is really decipher how do these ingredients work. Okay. How which of these genes that they can affect if we mix 2 or 3 different ingredients, is that going to have a beneficial effect or is it going to be unsafe or is it not going to do much? So those are the types of questions that we answer around these ingredients. And specifically at our company, we use what we call the in vitro models or the cell culture models. We use commercially available human cells and then treat them with these ingredients and really try to understand which of those genes are up or downregulated. And that’s the basic way of testing ingredients. But then you can always move on to the next level of testing, either using animal studies or doing clinical trials. So that’s how we are using genomics at Canomiks.
But my background in cardiovascular or in tests really helps me understand what it is that we need to focus on when what type of genes we need to focus on, what type of functional pathways we need to target. Right. And again, these are generally these are not drugs. So you can’t have an instantaneous effect. A lot of these ingredients will have effect over several weeks or even sometimes over months. And as they should because again these are food ingredients, most of them. And you cannot expect them to have instantaneous. There are some ingredients, of course, that will do that, but most of them will have a slow and steady effect. And it really I had this conversation yesterday. It really boils down to your lifestyle. For example, I drink tea every day and now that’s become part of my lifestyle, right? Every afternoon I drink green-tea and that’s just how I incorporate these functional ingredients in my day-to-day life. For example, if I do get some sort of sore throat, which is what I have done even as a child, I will add to my to warm milk and I will drink it. Now the question is does that work or not work? We really need to do a lot of research around those ingredients and make sure that I’m not just taking turmeric and just getting a placebo effect. That turmeric is really doing something. And that’s the type of work that we do at Canomiks.
Bethany Jolley: Yeah, that’s really interesting because I think individuals are always hearing, I need to have a healthy lifestyle. I need to have a good wellness and nutrition routine. But you’re really taking it a step further and doing that research and looking at it from a genetic level, which is really interesting.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Yeah. And again, going back to the same point that I made earlier, we know a lot around disease conditions and wellness conditions. Right. And we use pharma products as a reaction. Right. And they’re absolutely needed because if I get Covid tomorrow I am going to go and take Tylenol or take Ibuprofen. Whatever helps me get over that. And now there are some other drugs to treat Covid, but that’s an after-sort of a reaction method of dealing with issues. Right. But what if we just incorporate healthy lifestyle and make these functional ingredients part of our life and address or bring our health to our, to a wellness status so that even if you get infected, which is that happens, of course, I have a nine-year-old who brings home all kinds of infections, so that is going to happen. But when that happens, you’re at least your health. You’re not already challenged, right? Your health is not already challenged. So that’s how I think about these functional ingredients, something that you incorporate in your daily life, something that helps you get over that bump when you encounter that bump.
Bethany Jolley: And Canomiks offers what is called a product superiority platform. So can you provide some insights into how this platform really empowers companies in the functional food, dietary supplement, and beverage industries and helps them create safe and effective products?
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Yeah, so our product superiority platform uses genomics, bioinformatics, and technology. Some of these we have developed into our proprietary methods. And through that, we provide three different solutions. The first solution is what we call product validation. So let’s say if you are a finished good product company or if you are an ingredient supplier and you want to make sure, let’s say you take an example of ingredient supplier, you have two three different ingredients that you’re trying to bring to the market, but you can only bring one ingredient at a time. So we can test in. Like I said, in the human cell culture model, does your ingredient have the effect that you expect? Or if you are, if it’s a blank slate, then we can tell you in the way we test for gene expression changes is what is your ingredient going to affect what kind of genes and thereby what kind of wellness conditions it has a potential to effect. So that is one way of doing it and the way we work. If you have a multi-ingredient formulation, for example, we can test the whole formulation and give it the same sort of data. How does your formulation affect human genes? What are the wellness conditions it can affect? If you already have a wellness condition in mind, does it really do that? Or if you are open-ended, you ask us, hey, can you help us figure out what we can use it for? We test for 20 000 plus genes and we test real samples.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: It’s not just something that’s done on the computer. We can also do that. But we really take your particular formulation and test it. You can use it for supporting your structure-function claims. You can use it for your marketing purposes. You can use it to mitigate your risk. So those are all the different ways that we can do product validation or ingredient testing and validation. You can discover new ingredients if you’re an ingredient supplier and you can always charge a premium price. Now you have done all these studies right. So now that’s what we do for product validation. But then the other the most important use case is also if you decide to do a clinical trial then our data will really help you design successful clinical trial. It will help you discover the biomarkers that you should then test in your clinical trials. So as clinical trials are expensive and if they fail sometimes if it’s a small company, you may have to shut down the company. So our data helps. You really have a potential for success in your clinical trial. You’ve done some work with Ocean Spray. They had put out a press release around the work that we had done, and we had shown some benefits of the cranberries around heart health and cardiovascular health. And then there was a completely independent clinical trial that came out of UK that showed similar benefits. So because this question always comes up, you’re using human cells. It’s not a whole human.
And how can you really translate those results? So it really validates the type of work we do. The second solution that we have is what we call can trust by Canomiks ingredient certification. And for the first time, companies can test the biological effect of their ingredients for every batch. So the challenge with botanical ingredients especially is that they change from batch to batch. And that’s because of harvest differences, climate conditions, crop strains. All of those lead to the final ingredient that changes from. From every batch and then how do you make sure that the ingredient that you tested in your clinical trial two years ago is going to be the same this year, and you don’t want to have a failed production cycle? So we are funded by the National Science Foundation to build out a whole platform where we standardize the biological effect of these ingredients are. Currently, this has not been done. The only way you can test or authenticate these ingredients is by chemical testing, chemical analytical testing. So you can tell if this ingredient is really turmeric or not, or what percent of the active molecules that are that are found in turmeric are present, or what are the contaminants that are present? But does that turmeric now have the biological effect that you want that we don’t know? That’s not been done. So we are the first company to do that, and we can do that in a cost and time-efficient manner because we have come up with proprietary methods that will allow us to do that.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: And then the third solution we have is product innovation. We have databases with the first databases of about 250 botanicals and about 35 different micronutrients, where we have identified their relationship with 20,000 human genes. Remember I talked about that earlier in our conversation. You really need to understand how these ingredients impact human genes. And then our second database is of about 30 or 35 different chronic conditions and wellness conditions. And what genes are affected in those? And on top of it, we have developed our algorithm called gene tune. Gene tune allows us to innovate, formulation, or design for multi-ingredient formulations to target specific wellness conditions. Gene tune can also be used for designing personalized formulations. So that’s our third and exciting solution. So that’s how we ensure it’s a full circle and a solution platform that we have. You can innovate, you can validate. And then once you have a validated formulation on a batch-to-batch basis, we can test your ingredients so that you know that every batch of your product that you put on the shelf is the best for your consumer. But really what we’re trying to do is bring truth, transparency, and trust to this industry. And then in the process, really make food as medicine a reality. A lot of companies talk about food as medicine, but you’re really going to the most fundamental levels and figuring those steps out before we can really start thinking about food as medicine.
Bethany Jolley: Yeah and as someone who’s been in quality and regulatory for many years now and then also as a consumer, this is all very intriguing to me because as a consumer, I want to feel confident that what I’m purchasing, those claims are substantiated. They’re backed by science. And then you also want to make sure if you’re buying something that’s an herbal or botanical type product, that you are getting those same results every time. And I think some brands may not understand that those ingredients do have natural variances, and there are active components in those ingredients. And you do want to make sure that those are standardized. So all of those things you discussed are very intriguing to me.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Yeah. And what we have seen, I just got back last week from one of the biggest ingredient trade supply side West. And what I have seen over the years is that science is now becoming a true part of this journey of the supply chain. Again, as a consumer, you know that you want that substantiation. And what we’re seeing is companies want to do that. But oftentimes, especially the mid-size or the smaller companies don’t even know that there is they can access science and you don’t have to have in-house science. It helps, but you don’t have to have that. There are companies like us that are more than happy to help you to hold your hand. You don’t even have to have. We have worked with companies of all sizes, from startups to companies that are in the $50 billion range, and there are scientists in the bigger companies. There are no scientists in the smaller companies. It doesn’t matter to us, our job, our goal is to really hold your hand through the process, make sure that the science that we are providing in the data that is really relevant to you, and most importantly, at the end of it, to the consumer for us, mean again, the three co-founders.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: We are all scientists and science is what really excites us. And we always think about in our academic world, we always think put the patient at the center of everything. And that’s how I think from Canomiks perspective. We are two steps away from the consumer, but we always put the consumer at the center of all the thinking that we do. How can we make sure that consumer gets the best products, and how can we educate the consumer, but also educate the companies that are in the industry? You just brought that up. Some companies don’t know that there could be variances, and there is science available that you don’t have to go through very expensive clinical trials. There are different ways of substantiating. Doing these products because again, think about it, these are mostly food products. So you don’t have to go through the the drug route. But at the same time, having said that, these are not just your regular food. This is more than food. This is more it’s more in the nutrition category. And we want to make sure that your consumers are safe and get the best products.
Bethany Jolley: This episode is brought to you by Nutra payments.com. If your business needs credit card processing, that fully integrates with most major neutral software platforms, offers the lowest industry prices, and has built in features like recurring billing, $0 trials, and chargeback prevention. And visit us at nutra. Payments.com for a free online quote. And we’ve discussed quite a bit about Canomiks and their unique approach by combining genomics and bioinformatics and AI. And so how are you able to take this approach and help companies develop nutraceutical products that are not only safe, but also highly effective, and especially in those areas that we’ve talked about, like functional foods and beverages.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Yeah. So one of the things that companies can do is again, validate it, validate, validate. A lot of times companies rely on the data that that’s out there. Somebody else is mixing these two ingredients. So I’ll just put my brand on it and I’ll spend a lot of money on marketing, make it look like I have a different product. But consumers are getting smart. They know they look at the labels now and say, hey, by the way, this brand and this brand has the exact same thing. What’s different? Why should I buy one versus the other? So make sure that you have substantiation of your product. A lot of times, finished good products will rely on the data that their suppliers provide for their ingredients, and that’s great. If you have a single ingredient product, go for it. But the minute you start mixing ingredients, even if they’re just two ingredients, we have done enough research to see that it’s not always one plus one equals two. Sometimes one plus one equals zero, or one plus one equals four. And sometimes I say one plus one equals negative four because it becomes really unsafe. So you have to make sure that your consumer again is getting the expected effect or and what they’re looking for. Because if you don’t do that you may survive maybe two years, three years down the line. Consumers are going to know. And again, the newer generations are much more savvier than consumers from my generation. They want to know everything, right? Right from where this plant was grown, how it was harvested, what were the people involved? What were the environmental factors involved? What are the sustainability challenges? So, you know, you do the right thing at the start of it, and then you will see the results and always put people before profit. You always say that our company money is money. You want to make money but always put people before profits. Your own people, your company people, but also your consumers. And then success will just automatically follow.
Bethany Jolley: Yeah, that’s that is very true. I think if you develop a product that truly is able to work for people, they’re going to continue purchasing and you will have success, like you said. Yeah.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: And anytime there are supply chain issues, there is a problem of adulteration. Recently there was a study done. There is a fantastic organization called American Botanical Council, and they have the Botanical Adulterant program that monitors a lot of these issues. And between them and a couple of other organizations, they did work around elderberry, which got very popular post Covid because of its anti-inflammatory effects. And what was found was that 17% of those products were adulterated with colored dyes, elderberries, purple in color. So there was just purple dyes added. There were some other products added, other Adulterants added. So it’s just not the right thing to do. And what’s the point of all of it? Right. You start a company with some sort of a mission. Unless your only mission is to make money. There are many other ways of doing that. When you are in the health care, in the well-being space, just make sure that to the very least, your products are safe. Your if you buy products, if you buy ingredients from suppliers, that your suppliers are properly vetted, that you have a relationship, that you can go and audit them. A lot of times companies don’t know that you can go and ask for audits. So make sure that you have all of that homework done before you commit and before you start selling.
Bethany Jolley: Absolutely. Supplier qualification is is so important in this industry because unfortunately there are those ingredient suppliers that will adulterate the ingredients unfortunately. So you do have to vet who you’re going to be using. Are you able to share with us some examples or success stories where Canomiks has played a pivotal role in the development and launch of innovative and successful products in the nutraceutical industry?
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Unfortunately, I can’t disclose the names of most of that’s fine other than Ocean Spray, because again, they put out a press release. So it’s a known fact that they are our clients. So that’s definitely a success story. But we have worked with for the idea around that ingredient testing that was brought to us by one of our clients who had a failed production cycle. And we asked them, what did you do when you your ingredient was different than what you were normally used to getting? And they said that we went to China and bought the farms and completely vertically integrated. And so they, they. Can you come up with a solution where you can really make sure that this doesn’t happen? And as a business owner, we have to make sure that it’s not just one client that we can rely on. So we started interviewing all types of clients from finished good product clients to suppliers who who source their ingredients from different firms, suppliers who don’t have their own farms. And this was over and over brought to our attention that, yes, this is a major challenge. And even things as simple as food, like your flour that you use in baking products, can change from batch to batch. And the easiest way to recognize that is by changing the color. But a lot of these ingredients that we work with are extracts. And so it’s hard to just rely on physical parameters.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: So you really have to test them beyond that. And so that’s an example of how we work with the industry to come up with a solution. Of course we are scientists so we understand the science but always talk to our customers. Or when I’m giving talks, it’s a two way street. It’s a collaboration and we all have to work together to elevate that industry. And so come to us, reach out to us. And I always get excited about science, and we may not have to always work together. But if you have a simple science related question, just reach out. I’m a science nerd. Maybe I know the answer. Maybe somebody in my network will know the answer. So we’re happy to work with you that way. The other example I would give is we work with a company that was mixing more than ten ingredients in their product, and the way we help them is really figure out one of the ingredients that was challenging. It had it didn’t do what it was supposed to do, maybe bordered on the level of being unsafe. And so we helped them identify that. Not only that, if you are mixing five or more different ingredients, we may help you identify the ingredients that are really the most beneficial, so you can reduce your costs because it’s not just the cost of the ingredient.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Supply chains can be if you’re getting your five different ingredients from five different suppliers, it gets complicated. And we learned during Covid times that supply chains, there’s not much redundancy. And so you have to make sure that that’s the most beneficial formulation that you have. So we can help you identify those ingredients. The other ways that we have helped companies is in the discovery phase, we get 3 or 4 leading lead molecules or lead ingredients, and we help companies discover which is the best one that’s going to benefit them. Another example is where we work with a company where the product was already in the market for a specific wellness condition, and with the tests that they did with us, validated with us, we found another indication that they can use it for another company that we worked with, came up with a new extraction method, and they wanted to see if this new extraction method that was going to save them time and money and time is also money because it was they were going to be able to extract it from different parts of the plant. Is that going to be the same as the other, their original or their previous extract? So those are the different examples around how we have helped companies either. But it always comes down to reducing costs and reducing time and really bringing transparency and trust for their consumers.
Bethany Jolley: Yeah, absolutely. And I think our conversation today has brought to light that this industry is constantly changing and improving. And there’s also key challenges and opportunities that come along with that. So how is Canomiks really addressing these challenges while staying at the forefront of scientific innovation?
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Yeah, so a lot of the innovation. Happen. So on the genomic side of things, the rate at which the innovation happens, you just cannot keep up. My my co-founder Manoj, he is one of the top scientists in the country or in the world around genomics. And every time I talk to him, he comes up with something new. Right? So we are so used to now technology just yeah, just evolving almost sometimes on a weekly basis. And then on the other hand, the nutraceutical industry, I would say, I would say in the last 1 or 2 years is really fast. There’s a fast evolution in that industry. Before that, it was more entrenched in this is how we do things, this is how it’s been done. But I think the industry overall has realized that we start adopting technologies to solve the challenges. What’s interesting is I have met people on the nutraceutical side that have been in that industry for 20, 30 years, right? And they know everything about that industry, my co-founders and I, and Canomiks comes from a completely different industry. And now I see that the partnership you have to start partnering with companies that you have not traditionally partnered with. And I am so excited to see that happening more and more. So we are part of this other organization called Umpa, which now has formed a whole committee around technology and technology adoption, which is wonderful because at the end of the day, the industry is realizing that you have to self-police and you have to come up with guidelines for the industry overall that elevates the whole industry, and technology has to be part of that.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: We cannot be doing things that you were doing even five years ago. Canomiks is now a big part of that, and we are excited to be part of it. And I always tell our customers we may not have the right technology, but we play in the technology space, so we may be able to help you even identify the other partner. And again, going back to the partnership thing, it is all collaboration. You cannot work in silos anymore. You cannot just be the supplier. You have to talk to the non-traditional partners. You have to talk with the companies who do analytical chemistry. You have to talk to the companies who do formulation. You have to talk to the companies like us. You have to talk to the farmers. Go back and talk to the farmers. They know exactly what happens to that plant and how things are changing at their end, and how we can all come to the table together and really elevate the industry and solve all kinds of challenges. And we can do it.
Bethany Jolley: Collaboration is so important. And think, like you said, some companies just get caught up in working in those silos and don’t realize that if they just brought everyone together to collaborate, then you could find solutions a lot faster.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Yeah, absolutely. And again, this food as medicine movement has caught on. But there are a lot of pieces to that. There is the consumer, there are doctors, health care from the perspective of pharm, even pharma. I know pharma is sometimes you sit across from them and there’s not always the best relationship between them, especially the nutraceutical and the pharma industry. But I think we can all work together there. We need them, they need us. And I’m seeing more and more pharma companies getting into the space of nutrition and functional ingredients, because you cannot just go with one thing anymore. Our societies are aging, and the sad news for Americans is that our life expectancy has gone down. So how can we all address those challenges? By really focusing on health and well-being and medicine and food and all of that, and even just lifestyle changes too. So everyone has to come to the table to address, because otherwise, we are going to keep seeing that decline in life expectancy.
Bethany Jolley: Yeah. So I’d like to talk about the future a bit. We’ve talked about innovation and product development. What trends and innovations do you foresee in the realm of genomics and bioinformatics and AI for nutraceutical product development, and how is Canomiks planning to really embrace these trends?
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Yeah, so we have always played with big data, and at the back end everything that we do is around data. So while now has become a mainstream word, especially ChatGPT has brought to the forefront to everyone, which is wonderful. We’ve been working with data and everything that we the way we process data has always utilized AI. It came about a couple of years ago. Personalization. How can we personalize products or nutraceuticals or drug treatments? A lot of them are now personalized, especially in cancers. Not all cancers are the same. Mutations are different. And so you have to really target that. So I think we can do that same thing in the nutraceutical space where we really target individuals. With very specific formulations. Right. So let’s say you I’ll give an example. You have an identical twin. You both have very similar DNA again. But one twin has a very different lifestyle versus the other. One doesn’t follow healthy lifestyle like eating the right food or the right amount of sleep or the exercise, whereas the other is very regimented. So even though they’re born with the same DNA, their outlook, what you see, what we call the phenotype is going to be very different. So how can we help that individual holistically? How can we help them making those lifestyle changes? How can we help them with their environmental changes? And then on top of it, how can we help them with their nutrition, with functional ingredients? So and when I talk about functional ingredients in personalization space is when I talk about is what I talk about is around that gene expression changes.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: How can we target those specific genes and give them help them just to boost? It’s a supplement. It’s not going to cure you. It’s not meant to treat you, but just give you that added boost that you will need when you’re trying to make those positive changes in your life. And so I think we can definitely harness big data. We have enough data at this point. It’s just how we can put that data to use is always the challenge, right? When we do some of these studies, we generate four ten terabytes of data per study. But then how do we make sense of that data? How do we incorporate that data in future use cases is really the challenge. And so that’s one of the ways that we are doing using our data. The other is around sustainability. Let’s say you’re an ingredient supplier that gets your raw ingredient or your botanical from 100 different forms.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: One form is located in one region, another farm is located in another region. And how can we then make sure that let’s say one farm uses less water, is in drought area, cannot use a whole lot of water? How does that impact the final ingredient? Maybe the final ingredient is still the same. And so how can we then help that that farmer or that supplier make those decisions around you don’t have to use that much water? It’s just fine. Or if there is all of a sudden harvest time has changed and now your ingredient has changed in one form versus the other. So there are all these sustainability use cases for that big data. Again, at the end of the day, we look at the end product and its biological effect, but we can tie it all the way back across that supply chain and help our suppliers. We can help the farmers make the right decisions. We can help the Finnish good companies make the right decision to decrease our carbon footprint, to adapt to the changing climate, and again, in the process, not compromise on the quality of the ingredient.
Bethany Jolley: And it sounds like you and your team are constantly working on new projects. So are there any key goals or projects on the horizon that you’d be able to share with us? And do any of these new projects really help with the betterment of consumer health and well-being?
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Yeah. So the batch-to-batch testing platform, that is the R&D that is funded by the National Science Foundation. We started with a prototype for curcumin, which is the active molecule in turmeric. But we are expanding that to elderberry and to cranberry. So as we go through developing these ingredient standards, what’s exciting for us is that we are getting smarter. Our prototype helped us identify any challenges, any issues in the process of developing that back end. And now we have come to a stage where we can do multiple of these at the same time. And if there are companies out there that have ingredients that you use on a very high volume basis, but also the ingredients that we have a lot of the supply chain challenges, we can work with you to develop that standard just for you. And the success story around that project is that we are able to cut down on time and cost significantly, because we have now validated our processes where we can mix these ingredients at some or mixed samples at some in one of our processes to cut down on the time and the cost. So we can really make this the mainstream type of testing. So that’s what we are working on right now. But then there are a couple of other projects that we are not ready to disclose yet.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: But again, we are really excited that this because science is science. The data doesn’t always you. The data has to talk to you. And as a scientist, I can tell you in 99% of the times experiments fail. And that’s just a part of it. Right? And so it takes time. Science is not something that’s easy. And oh, you just change the color and things are going to look exactly what you want. Now science is trial and error, and we are at a point in our standardization solution where we have addressed almost most of the. Challenges and are looking to launch that. So again, science humbles you. And science really science is it’s not something that’s permanent, right? It changes once you have enough data. And coming back to the data, the whole point of data is today we may have just data on 20 samples, but in a year we may have data on 150 samples. And then our science may look different and we have to revisit and make those changes. So in that sense, we are continuously evolving what we do. But also we have some other projects for the industry that would that’s really going to help the industry down the line.
Bethany Jolley: Think a lot of people just see science at the high level, and they don’t really realize all of the trial and error and potential failures that go into it. But that’s what it takes to develop really great products.
Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk: Yeah, it’s all about trial and error, and keep working at it. Keep listening to your data. I always tell my students and my postdocs that keep listening to your data, and I learned that very early on while I was doing my PhD, where I was expecting the result a certain way, and it was constantly opposite and thought I was never going to graduate, I’m going to fail and whatnot. And then I looked. I put all of my experiments, six months worth of experiments in front of me, and the pattern that just emerged, it’s like I was not doing anything wrong. My technique was perfect. It’s just that the results are opposite of what I was expecting. And then once we followed that route, then we realized, oh, of course, this is this is not what it was supposed to do. This is how it’s supposed to function. Right? And so from then on, I just let the data talk to you and you’ll be on the right path.
Bethany Jolley: Well, thank you once again for joining us today. This has been a wonderful, enlightening conversation, and we’ve gained deep insights into the world of scientific innovation and nutraceutical product development. With Dr. Leena Nabzdyk, CEO and Co-Founder of Canomiks. Her expertise is truly transformative for our listeners interested in exploring genomics, innovative solutions for product development, and the functional food, dietary supplement, and beverage industries will provide the necessary links. Don’t forget to subscribe, share your thoughts, and joining us and celebrating the ever-evolving world of nutraceutical innovations on social media until our next episode. Stay informed, well-nourished and inspired.
Thanks for tuning in to this episode of NutraPreneur. If you enjoy the show, please subscribe and better yet, leave us a review as it really helps us grow the show.