Frank Jaksch, Chief Executive Officer of ChromaDex, an innovative natural products company, challenges his employees to always be looking for the next crucial discovery, connection, and ultimately, game-changing molecule. Pterostilbene is one such molecule for the company, with advancements that can be traced back to ChromaDex’s culture of encouraging innovation. Pterostilbene, a structural relative of resveratrol, was of interest to ChromaDex as an antioxidant ingredient. It was not until a chance meeting at a wedding, when a ChromaDex employee got to talking to a UCI researcher, that the molecule was considered as a potential skin therapeutic. This casual conversation turned into an Industry Sponsored Research (ISR) project between ChromaDex and Prof. Frank Meyskens’ research group at UCI. Today, the company has licensed the work from the university and continues to develop it as a novel and healthy topical sun protectant.
ChromaDex is a unique company that has invested in early-stage innovation with scientific research institutions. The goals of the company are to identify, develop, and commercialize novel ingredient technologies. These ingredients have applications in nutritional supplements, foods and beverages, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. Their current ingredient pipelines include natural components derived from plants, fruits, and nuts that demonstrate positive effects on cognitive, immune, and heart and circulatory functions. Pterostilbene, for example, through the course of the university’s ISR program, was found to prevent skin damage caused by ultraviolet light. In mice, topical treatment with pterostilbene resulted in decreased skin hyperplasia, in which skin cells begin to enlarge and overgrow, hallmarks of the early stages of skin cancer. The treatment was also found to maintain barrier function of the skin, keeping it hydrated and strong. This important work was patented by UCI’s technology transfer office, the Invention Transfer Group (ITG), and licensed to ChromaDex. Additionally, the UCI researcher who championed this work in the Meyskens’ lab, Dr. Ryan Dellinger, transitioned from Project Scientist at the university to ChromaDex’s Director of Scientific Affairs.
Headquartered in Irvine, ChromaDex is well-positioned to address the needs of the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, while taking advantage of the exciting and emerging culture of innovation in Orange County. Jaksch points out that in addition to an ideal location in the center of biotech and pharmaceutical markets, ChromaDex is comfortably situated in the sand and sun of Southern California, a locale that both produces and attracts top talent. UCI alumnus Napoleon Greene is just one example of a successful local student that graduated and now works in one of the burgeoning markets in Southern California. Greene studied engineering and biology as a UCI undergraduate and is now the Sales Operations Manager at ChromaDex. He thrives in an environment that, he states, is the “perfect marriage of science-based research and business.” While he enjoyed working in the lab as a student, at ChromaDex, he finds value in not being limited to one or two narrowly focused research projects at a time; instead, he is afforded opportunities to work on a diversity of research pipelines and collaborate across various sectors of industry with scientists, business professionals, and consumers. With the success of ChromaDex and innovative companies like it in Orange County, we will likely see the continued rise in highly-skilled and diversely-thinking students and professionals, like Napoleon, in the future.