Natural Pharmacy magazine, Vol.3, No.6, June 1999
Entering a Special Supplements
Howard Benedikt, D.C., M.S.
Aeterna Laboratories, Inc., was started in 1991 as the
brainchild of an endocrinologist who wanted to create innovative products to improve
quality of life. Now Aeterna
is one of the larger biotechnology companies and went public on the Montreal and Toronto
Stock Exchanges in 1995. Its mission statement proclaims that the companies goals are to
develop, produce, and market innovative products contributing to the well-being of the
world through alliances with strategic partners.
Natural Pharmacy recently spoke with
Stephen Berh, Ph.D., Aeterna`s
director of scientific affairs, about the company`s past, present and future.
Natural Pharmacy (NP): Aeterna is
obviously not exclusively a pharmaceutical company.
Stephen Berh, Ph.D. (SB): No, in fact the
company has three overall categories of products that are covered by two divisions of the
company - the Biopharmaceutical Division and the Cosmetics and Nutrition Division. Our
Biopharmaceutical Division concentrates its efforts on the research and development of
antiangiogenic products for diseases such as cancer, arthritis and psoriasis, which are
complicated by the formation of new blood vessels. Our Cosmetics and Nutrition Division
produces active ingredients and finished products for companies in the nutritional and
cosmetic industry, such as Estee Lauder Companies. In the everchanging competitive
nutritional market, Aeterna
has expanded to include proprietory manufacturing methods and advanced scientific
NP: What types of products does Aeterna
SB: We offer a liquid shark cartilage
extract with proven antiangiogenic activity, which we sell under the brand name
CarTCelI®. This dietary supplement has nothing to do with the other powder extracts of
shark cartilage available. We also produce a line of grandular extracts from a specialized
process to provide a specific set of proteins or active compounds. These extracts come
from the thymus, liver, adrenals, mesenchyme and pancreas.
NP : How does CarTCelI® compare with
other shark cartilage powder products ?
SB : Both are derived from the same
biological material, which is shark cartilage, that is where similarities end. The
differencies lie in the manufacturing process and what ends up in the finished product.
Cartilage is a highly hydrated material, containing about 50-80% water depending on the
source. In the manufacturing process of CarTCelI®, biologically active substancies always
remain in their natural aqueous environment, which helps prevent the degradation of these
bioactive molecules. In contrast, when cartilage is dried and powdered, some of these
active ingredients are inactivated. Furthermore, when Aeterna extracts the product, we make it
bioavailable by removing it from the cartilage matrix in which it is imbeded. The highly
bioactive extract is kept in a low temperature during the manufacturing process so that
its activity is kept constant. Finally, state-of the art ultrafiltration is used to
concentrate these active fractions.
NP : What research has been done on this
SB: The research on CarTCelI® can be
divided into research on the biological effects of the product and clinical research. A
considerable amount of work has been done to demonstrate that CarTCelI® has
antiangiogenic properties. An antiangiogenic product may prevent the development of
problem-causing blood vessels as stated by Dr. Judah Folkman, who is a world expert on
Recently we perfected an assay using human
umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC). The assay shows that our liquid cartilage
extract inhibits the growth of these cells, wich are crucial to the phenomenon of
angiogenesis. Furthermore, the product has shown no toxicity, so it is scientifically
supported to be a completely safe antiangiogenic product.
NP : It is also an important effect on
SB: Yes, CarTCelI® helps to maintain the
structure of the extracellular matrix found in cartilage, joints, and other connective
tissues by inhibiting the matrix metalloproteinases (MMP), which are enzymes that break
down collagen. By inhibiting these enzymes, the liquid cartilage extract helps to protect
the extracellular matrix of the body.
NP : So, is this antiangiogenic and
anti-MMP activity really bioavailable?
Yes, a clinical study has shown that in subjects given
this liquid cartilage extract orally, the migration
of endothelial cells was significally inhibited compared
to control subjects. We have submitted this study
for publication in a well-known scientific journal,
and it is a clear demonstration that the angiogenic
activity of CarTCelI® is both absorbed and used in
the body (....)
NP : There have been problems in the past
regerding contamination of shark cartilage. What steps does Aeterna to
SB : First, Aeterna`s
extracts come from premium raw materials. In the case of CarTCelI®, for example, the
cartilage is cleaned with water only, vacuum-packed in airtight bags, frozen, and then
shipped while frozen to Aeterna.
We also verify that this raw material is completely free of pesticides and heavy metals,
and it undergoes extensive microbial testing to ensure that there is no contamination.
NP : What about Aeterna`s
SB : Here, I should mention that he bovine
extracts we use are all prepared from Canadian-certified animals that are bovine
spongiform encelophalopathy (BSE)-free. Furthermore, all calves are examined by federal
inspectors and veterinarians to make sure that the materials meet the strict requirements
for human consumption products. Also, what truly destinguishes our products is that the
cartilage and other tissues are extracted with water only. These extracts undergo
molecular fractination and filtration at low temperature in a state of the art facility.
this ensures a clear and sterile solution of small peptides with full bioactive potential.
NP : Some ñompanies selling glandular
extracts as dietary supplements claim that their production contain specific growth
factors. How do you respond to this?
SB : We think that it is preferable to
replenish the body with a balanced cocktail of signaling molecules that help maintain or
reestablish the body`s homeostasis, metabolism or balance - on which all health generally
NP : Where are your products currently
SB : They are distributed worldwide in
response to requests from healthcare professionals, health food stores, and pharmacies in
Canada, the United States, South America, Europe, and Asia.
NP : What is the connection between your
products and pharmacy?
SB : Pharmacies are becoming increasingly
involved in the dietary supplement and nutriceutical industries in order to meet the
changing needs of their customers, but it is more important than ever that they preserve
their image of providing scientifically supported products, such as those offered by Aeterna.
Our products are not sold as pharmaceuticals, and they are available in the United States
through healthcare professionals and retail markets looking for innovative natural
NP : What does the future hold for Aeterna?
SB : We are looking at new and exciting
natural products supported by science and clinical studies. Some of these compliment our
shark cartilage extract, while others are truly unique active ingredients from plant
NP : A recent article in The Wall Sreet
Journal discusses the establishment of a federal office to evaluate and regulate herbal
medicines in Canada, with the goal of creating a separate category for nutritional
supplements. Would be this a positive step?
SB : Yes, for both manufactures and
consumers. Presently, in Canada, nutritional supplements are classified as food, so we are
prevented from making structure function claims as U.S. companies do for their products.
This places the burden of education on consumers. So, creating a category for supplements
alone would give manufactures such as Aeterna freedom to provide customers with all
the information they need to make informed choices about supplements.