How savvy Li Ka-shing profits from this loss-making firm’s ‘healthy ageing’ product

16-Jul-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Li Ka-shing, one of Hong Kong’s best known tycoons in his nineties, puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to fighting ageing.

He has been taking Tru Niagen, a “healthy ageing supplement” made by one of his investees, since he was first introduced to it more than two years ago, according to Frank Jaksch, the co-founder and chair of ChromaDex.

Li’s private venture capital unit Horizons Ventures ploughed $25 million into Nasdaq-listed ChromaDex in April 2017 and is now its largest shareholder, with a 13 per cent stake.

That was at the time when ChromaDex, which is listed on Nasdaq, had a $46 million fundraising drive to transition towards the consumer products market from the low margin ingredients supply business.

ChromaDex reported a loss of $33 million last year, reflecting its fourth straight annual loss, even as Li made a paper gain thanks to a 42 per cent rise in the company’s shares since his investment. A call into Li’s press person about his use of Tru Niagen was not immediately returned.

Watsons, the health and beauty chain of CK Hutchison Holdings, a company controlled by the Li family, launched Tru Niagen throughout its Hong Kong retail network beginning in September 2017.

“It is one of the best-selling supplement products in Hong Kong,” Jaksch said, adding the vast majority of ChromaDex sales are in North America.

He said ChromaDex hopes rising sales in Asia will help the company to reach break-even in six to 12 months.

The patented Tru Niagen contain a synthesized form of vitamin B3 known as nicotinamide riboside (NR). The nutrient is also found in milk, but in such tiny amounts that it would be impractical as a source for the daily recommended levels suggested by ChromaDex, he said.

Jaksch said scientific studies have proven that NR can boost the level of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), an enzyme vital to cellular metabolism that turns food into energy and repairs damaged DNA.

Consumption of Tru Niagen was found to be effective in boosting NAD and did not cause discernable adverse side effects, according to an eight-week clinical study involving 132 adults. The study was conducted by the company and released publically on July 8.

According to a research paper published in 2017 by the US-based National Institute on Aging, evidence has suggested that NAD declines occur in various tissues during ageing, and bolstering cellular NAD levels might retard aspects of ageing and forestall some age-related diseases.

But that is not enough for ChromaDex to claim Tru Niagen has “anti-ageing” benefits under US Food and Drug Administration rules that require evidentiary support from published scientific studies, Jaksch said. It can only claim Tru Niagen promotes “healthy ageing”.

“There are hundreds of studies showing that by raising NAD, there are certain benefits associated with ageing,” he said. “But there is no way to do clinical trials on ageing, which affects different body parts with different people and is related to genetics, lifestyle, diet, alcohol consumption and sleep.”

There are 34 planned and ongoing trials to show how NAD levels affect specific tissues or body parts, he said.

Hong Kong-based independent healthcare analyst Tony Ren said the relationship between nutrition and health is one of the most controversial areas of biomedical research because of the difficulty of conducting large randomised clinical trials over long periods of time.

“Consequently, researchers typically use observational studies. Doing so introduces other factors that may bias the outcome,” Ren said. “I am not aware of any conclusive studies that demonstrated any diet or supplement can reverse ageing or extend life.”


Category: Hong Kong

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