Right now, they are just bright green squares of gum. But Dr. Stephen Hsu hopes they are just the start of green tea-based consumer products that will translate into jobs in Augusta and the state.
Hsu and the company he founded, Camellix LLC, are producing the first consumer product to come out of Georgia Health Sciences University’s Life Sciences Business Development Center. It is called MighTeaFlow gum and will feature the potent green tea compound known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG, a potent antioxidant, as well as jaborandi leaf from South America and xylitol.
“It’s all natural, for dry mouth,” Hsu said. The company will begin airing ads in the Augusta area, perhaps as early as this week, offering free samples of the gum to the first 500 people who ask. The company has a lozenge with the same formulation being tested in clinical trials at GHSU College of Dental Medicine, where Hsu is an associate professor of oral biology. The company eventually hopes to submit it to the Food and Drug Administration to develop it as a prescription medicine for dry mouth because Hsu believes it will lack the side effects of current medications that cause some patients to stop using them.
“They’re looking for something that is natural,” Hsu said, and that is what the company is looking to provide.
First comes the gum, which builds on work Hsu and his team did at the molecular level and in animal models for a type of chronic dry mouth from an autoimmune disorder called Sjogren’s syndrome. In animals – and Hsu believes in people – EGCG appears to protect the salivary gland cells and naturally stimulates saliva production. In animals early on, EGCG appears to protect the cells from DNA damage caused by free radicals, Hsu said. Jaborandi leaf appears to have the same kind of action in salivary glands, creating a “synergy” that makes the gum work, Hsu said.
Sjogren’s syndrome affects about 4 million people in the U.S., but chronic dry mouth caused by medication also afflicts about 40 percent of the elderly population, which Hsu estimated at 16 million people, as well as people with diabetes and those who are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions.
“When we added them up, it was surprising,” Hsu said, and could be as many as 50 million people in the U.S.
The company is also working on a mouthwash and toothpaste, but it will not be limited to oral care. Lining a shelf in one of the company’s labs were small sample bottles of its dandruff shampoo, which will use a patented formulation of oil-based EGCG that can be absorbed by the skin to deliver an anti-inflammatory punch. The shampoo will not have the harsh ingredients of other dandruff shampoos, which can contain things like sulfur and coal tar, Hsu said.
“We eliminated all of them,” he said.
The company is even working on a cold sore medication because EGCG also seems to have an antiviral effect. That product is being tested at a university in China, but it appears to work well, said Camellix Chief Financial Officer Tracy Wang.
“Plus it’s all natural,” she said.
Hsu, a former green tea farmer in China, had long been known as a green tea polyphenol expert and had consulted with companies in the past to develop 35 green tea-based products. But Georgia and GHSU officials encouraged him to start his own company. With $150,000 in start-up grants from the Georgia Research Alliance and encouragement from GHSU, Hsu feels it is going to pay off for them. Even if plans go forward to move out of the incubator and into a bigger manufacturing facility, Hsu said they won’t go far.
“We want to stay in Augusta because we’ve grown from Augusta,” he said. “We’re hiring Georgians, and we’re going to contribute to the economy.”