Helping people live healthier for longer is the aim of a Kiwi supplements company using scientific evidence to build its brand
At a glance
A health supplement originally discovered by Otago University researchers has the potential to improve your skin, your sports performance, and even protect you from heart disease.
It’s no wonder the makers of MitoQ can’t bottle the stuff fast enough – in May the company sold its entire monthly budget for the Chinese market within a few days.
With scientific evidence mounting that MitoQ helps slow the effects of ageing, the Auckland-based firm is doing a brisk online and retail trade and gearing up to expand its overseas markets, particularly the US and China.
MitoQ is a derivative of Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10), an important antioxidant for looking after mitochondria which are the ‘batteries’ of our cells.
As we age so do our mitochondria, and CoQ10 supplements to boost the performance of these cellular energy centres have been around a long time. MitoQ says the difference with its product is that it has a positive charge, meaning it gets into the negatively charged mitochondria up to 1200 times more effectively than CoQ10.
In good heart
Mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to diseases and conditions from multiple sclerosis to adult asthma. However MitoQ’s business model is selling a health supplement, as opposed to the considerably more complex and expensive process of developing a medicine.
That is why evidence-based marketing is a core pillar of the brand, chief executive Greg Macpherson says.
“Consumers are getting savvier and savvier, they need proof,” he says. “Doing research allows us to go to the market and say, ‘we know we work’.”
The company has supported a range of studies into the efficacy of its product, including research by the University of Colorado Boulder into MitoQ and cardiovascular health.
The trial found that the supplement could reverse the ageing of blood vessels by the equivalent of 15 to 20 years within six weeks, thus potentially playing a role in preventing heart disease.
Auckland University is also researching the effects of MitoQ. Last year it conducted a pilot for a future, larger study examining the benefits for people suffering from type two diabetes.
Now the university is about to examine MitoQ’s potential for boosting sports performance. It will give a group of people MitoQ for six weeks and then CoQ10 for another six weeks, and biopsy their muscles to examine the relative effects of each supplement.
This research will help answer an important question, Greg says. “We know MitoQ gets into mitochondria 800 to 1200 times more effectively than CoQ10, but what is the actual effect of that?”
Developing distinct markets
As MitoQ gears up its research and development effort it is building its markets. It’s about to do a deal with a national retailer in the US, and is seeking Therapeutic Goods Administration approval in Australia to allow it to sell through retail outlets there.
Meanwhile its Chinese trade is growing exponentially, with demand from consumers looking for overall health benefits.
The company must walk a fine line to meet the regulations surrounding supplements marketing and cannot talk directly to customers about the findings of its research. However if a doctor inquires it can show them the evidence, Greg says. “A lot of the work we do is talking to the medical profession at conferences and events, particularly in the US.”
MitoQ started out selling skincare as an effective means of demonstrating the benefits of the product. But sales of the capsules soon outstripped the cosmetics, and now it offers a range of supplements to assist liver, heart, eye, blood sugar, joint and skin function.
Callaghan Innovation support has enabled MitoQ to conduct the scientific research necessary to prove its product, and the Auckland University work in particular has been brought forward as a result, Greg says.
Currently MitoQ’s big potential is in two distinct markets, says Andrew Paterson, Callaghan Innovation’s Customer Manager Health – the US, where medical efficacy is important, and China which is more consumer-driven.
“We have been working alongside the company and providing co-funding to ensure its R&D strategy aligns with what those markets want, and co-ordinating with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to facilitate market access,” he says.
Updated: 29 November 2018