Thursday 22 March 2018

A sweet idea: making medicines work better by testing them on consumers' tastebuds

My Big Idea

Margaret Shine is now aiming to tap into the American market
Margaret Shine is now aiming to tap into the American market
"You can have a fantastic wonder drug but if it tastes horrible, the chances are less people will use it."
Sarah McCabe

Sarah McCabe

Margaret Shine is founder and chief executive of the SRL consulting group, which provides sensory research services to the companies in the pharmaceutical and food sector and other industries. The mother of three is from north Cork and now lives in Rochestown, Co Cork.

"After completing studies in food chemistry I spent the earlier part of my career working for multinationals. I worked in research and development (R&D) for food and beverage companies.

It was there I spotted the need for a contract sensory science provider. Sensory science is the study of how we perceive things, like the taste of milk.

Investing in sensory science at the product development stage helps manufacturers to ensure their product will be acceptable to consumers.

In 2002 I set up my own business, the origins of what SRL is today. We worked mainly the food sector, primarily for dairy companies.

The group grew organically, through referrals.

As we expanded I realised there was an equally strong need for sensory services in the pharmaceutical industry. I launched a second company, SRL Pharma.

When bringing a medicine to market - a process that costs several million euro - scientists face many challenges, not least the requirement to make products that patients can actually consume.

You can have a fantastic wonder drug but if it tastes horrible, the chances are less people will use it.

Children and the elderly are often the most sensitive to the 'bad taste' of active medicinal ingredients.

Formulations for these demographics are far more likely to be in liquid form, as tablet or capsules can be more difficult for these patients to swallow.

It is also becoming increasingly popular to deliver drugs in orally disintegrating dosage forms, due to ease of ingestion and absorption. In these cases a good taste is even more vital to ensure patient compliance.

Compliance rates in children are generally regarded as low and this is often attributed to formulations that are bitter and unpalatable.

I have three children, two boys and a girl, so I know first-hand how significant the taste of medicine is for kids.

This, along with new paediatric regulations, has challenged the pharma industry to develop acceptable "age-appropriate" formulations.

In 2013 we became the first company globally in our industry to get ISO 9000 certification.

We also bought out another business, Independent Sensory Services, a spin-off of University College Cork established by Dr Liz Sheehan who is now director of sensory and consumer research at SRL.

This partnership has strengthened SRL's research position in both Irish and international markets and enabled us to drive efficiencies in cost and human resources.

We are also partnered with UCC's School of Pharmacy and the Clinical Research Facility Cork at Mercy University Hospital in Cork.

Today we have clients in the top ten globally in the food, beverage, packaging, consumer goods and pharmaceutical sector.

The services we offer can be broadly categorised into product development, quality control and consumer research and are carried out using either trained panels - comprised of people who have been screened for their sensory acuity - or consumer panels, where groups have no prior training in sensory science.

The business employs 23 people. My next ambition is to set up a US office for the pharmaceutical operation; we have lots of clients in North America."

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