How I did it: Andrew Tait
Entrepreneur takes western-science approach to eastern medicine
August 3, 2014, 11:00pm
Chinese remedy inspired Tait Laboratories founder Andrew Tait to develop digestive supplement
Business in Vancouver’s “How I Did It” feature asks business leaders to explain in their own words how they achieved a business goal in the face of significant entrepreneurial challenges. In this week’s issue, Andrew Tait talks about how he brought a scientific approach to herbal medicine and how he managed to leverage grants to get his new business off the ground.
“I was formally trained as a scientist. I came to Vancouver to do my PhD in chemistry in August of 2004 at the University of British Columbia. I was studying proteins from a virus related to multiple sclerosis.
“I had some insights into possible mechanisms of action for some Chinese medicine for multiple sclerosis. Mandarin orange peel has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for digestive health. There are labs around the world that are working on this that connect good digestion to good brain health. So we’re looking at gut inflammation and connecting that with neural inflammation.
“I started the company a few months before I defended my PhD thesis. The plan was that we could take possible botanical sources to market for multiple sclerosis. That was the original plan.
“But looking at the regulatory space – understanding how botanical drugs are regulated in Canada and the U.S. – we realized that our path to market might be severely hindered. It’s a polytherapy approach, where it’s an herbal or botanical source. But if you’re not identifying one active molecule, it becomes really difficult for that drug to be approved.
“There’s only a handful of botanical drugs that have been approved on the market and nothing yet for multiple sclerosis. So I said, maybe we could find a drug out of it, but in the meantime, I know that natural health-care practitioners would probably want to give mandarin orange peel to their patients, if they have multiple sclerosis.
“People with multiple sclerosis, 80% use alternative therapies. They use it in connection with prescription drugs. It was just supposed to be something to bring in cash on the side – not a mainstay. As a chemist, I realized we can definitely improve the yields of what we believe are the active ingredients.
“I figured if we see about supporting the science for neurological functions, what mandarin orange peel can do for the brain, maybe we can get some government funding for this.
“All I needed to start with was $4,500. That $4,500 I used to leverage financing from the Canadian Youth Business Foundation for $15,000 and follow-on financing from the Business Development Bank of Canada for $35,000. Then we managed to land $81,000 in IRAP [Industrial Research Assistance Program].
“With that funding we were able to do our R&D for the high-yield extract of the mandarin orange peel; we managed to file our IP and present at several conferences.
“We have two strains that we’re exploring. There’s the retail side of things – the finished dietary supplement, and that’s been approved by Health Canada for digestive health. On the other side, because of the high solubility for additives, we have the food and beverage side.
“We’ve just started our commercialization (of Mandarin Skin Plus). We’ve just launched into 12 stores locally.”