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Candy good for you? Mars to probe cocoa benefits

July 25, 2005

By Eleanor Wason

LONDON (Reuters) – Mars, the company that made its fortune
satisfying chocolate cravings, unveiled plans on Monday to
develop medications that use a component of cocoa to help treat
diabetes, strokes and vascular disease.

The privately held U.S. company that produces M&Ms and Mars
bars said it hoped to make medications based on flavanols –
plant chemicals with health benefits found in cocoa, as well as
red wine and green tea.

It is now in talks with several large pharmaceutical
companies for a licensing or joint venture agreement to develop
medicinal products based on its research.

After 15 years and more than $10 million worth of studies,
Mars said it had developed hundreds of compounds that copy the
aspirin-like blood-thinning properties of cocoa flavanols.

“We know we have an interesting and powerful property that
would help people,” said Mars Chief Science Officer Dr Harold
Schmitz.

“In order for these to be developed we need a big
partner…It takes not tens of million but hundreds of millions
of dollars to bring a product to market.”

He declined to say which companies Mars is in talks with.

“The mounting scientific evidence is extraordinary,” said
Dr Norm Hollenberg, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical
School, which has collaborated with Mars on cocoa research.

“This is a scientific breakthrough that could well lead to
a medical breakthrough.”

Hollenberg was chairing a two-day seminar with 20 science
and medical experts in Switzerland to discuss the newest
research on cocoa’s potential health benefits.

Two clinical trials have found that cocoa flavanols can
boost the flow of blood to key areas of the brain, raising the
possibility of treatments for dementia and strokes.

A new clinical study has also shown flavanols’ ability to
improve synthesis of nitric oxide by blood vessels could aid
treatment of blood circulation problems associated with
long-term diabetes.

A medicinal drug based on Mars’s research would probably
use synthetic compounds although in some areas natural cocoa
compounds had also shown to be quite promising, Schmitz said.

“Every month we are making new and different compounds,” he
said.

It would take about five to seven years from agreeing a
joint venture to get a product to market, he added.

Mars has already launched CocoaVia, a nutrition bar
containing 80 calories and specially preserved flavanols, which
typically get destroyed in usual cocoa processing.

The chocolate industry had to rid its products of a junk
food image and highlight cocoa’s healthier qualities to
encourage demand for a produce mainly grown by poor African
farmers, industry experts said at a conference in Malaysia last
week.




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