The "Lifecycle" of Thorne Products with Stephen Phipps, Chief Innovation Officer

The "Lifecycle" of Thorne Products with Stephen Phipps, Chief Innovation Officer

What’s the first thing I think of when I hear the name “Thorne”? Results. From when I first learned about Thorne in private practice in Seattle, to now sharing what I know with friends and family, I know what they will see also: results.

It’s the absolute best feeling in the world to know we are working hard to make a difference in people's lives and impacting the health and wellness journeys of millions of people daily.

As Thorne’s Chief Innovation Officer, I oversee the product development process and work with a larger scientific group to integrate our testing platforms into how we design products. I also lead teams in facilitating and executing our clinical trial work. Overseeing many different areas of research and science is the favourite part of what I do. 

The caliber of scientists, both within Thorne’s internal team and our external collaborators, is unparalleled. Having the ability to connect, communicate, and develop ideas and products with the top minds in health and wellness still, to this day, makes us all energized to be a part of the collaborative process.

Thorne’s approach to innovation

Creating a new product – especially one that has no precedent on the market – can be chaotic at first. We call this first part of development the “fuzzy front end.” During this phase, we capture the different ways we could make something and assess the different ingredients we could use. From there we funnel down further, and further, and further until we have a product we can be proud of. Depending on the complexity of the process, this can take from nine months to five years. 

We typically focus on multiple products at a time across our team. The reason for doing it this way goes back to the funnel. Products and ideas are continually being scrapped or set aside for later, so if you only focus on one product at a time, then you could be left with nothing.

Each and every product has what we call a “lifecycle.” And a product’s lifecycle doesn’t end when we finalize it for commercialization. A product is first introduced to the public, then it has an adoption curve as customers begin buying it, and then it stabilizes as the product finds its regular set of users. Throughout the new product’s lifecycle, we review its performance, its stability, and its ingredients to ensure there are no issues or trends that would dictate a reformulation.

Long-term planning and strategy are a stressful part of product development. Trends change. Individuals change. Research can emerge that shifts our understanding of a health concern or an ingredient’s mechanism of action. It takes a lot of planning and gaming out the what-ifs.

We spend a lot of time listening to health-care practitioners and their patients, asking questions, following up, and immersing ourselves in the variables that might be involved in analyzing a new product. Even with all that, you must be okay with knowing that sometimes you might need to start over from scratch. A lot of fluidity goes into our thinking and having tough skin helps.

Here’s an example to frame some of this out:

Let’s say we are researching which botanicals support a healthy stress response. The first layer, of course, is the science. That’s the easy part. We also try to understand for each candidate botanical what political trends there are in different countries that supply it or grow it, as well as the agricultural and wild-harvesting stressors that might occur – is there any potential for it to become threatened or endangered over time? Have there been innovations in manufacturing or horticulture (vertical farming, regenerative agriculture, synthesis, or fermentation) and intellectual property development over the course of 5-10 years? Putting all of this information together helps us build a product that will not only work as intended, but will also be one that stays available on the market.

Integrated development

On an average week I talk to a lot of people and, of course, I listen a lot. I will touch base with the outside scientists we collaborate with; with my product development team on how each product development project is progressing; with our Quality Department to ensure as we make a new product, we are doing so with the quality standards that set Thorne apart; with our Engineering Department to adjust a newly launched product if need be or check on the progress of scaling up “bench” work to full manufacturing; with our Marketing Department to plan a new product’s launch; and our Medical Affairs Department to work on creating content, answering questions, and tracking products already launched in the marketplace.

What we are focusing on at Thorne now

Brain health and brain aging research topics are key areas of impact for Thorne now and in the future. Because although more and more data continues to say we will live longer and longer, we need to make sure we maintain our mental capacities to enjoy the additional time we are here. Anxiety, depression, insomnia, and dementia are important areas of ongoing research, and even with all our advancements in these areas, we are still limited in our scope of understanding them, and developing long-term, risk-free options.

Thorne is a leader in the conversation around healthy aging, and that continues to be a focus for us in product innovation. For example, many of our products contain nicotinamide riboside (NR). My proudest moment was developing a suite of products that contain a unique form of NR – nicotinamide riboside hydrogen malate. A lot of effort went into understanding the different ways that NR is made, which can impact its dosing and how well the body tolerates it. We chose the malate form of NR because it’s present in large amounts in foods and is well tolerated by the body. We had a lot of data to support this hypothesis. When we got word that our malate form had one of the highest safety profiles in the NR market, it reaffirmed everything we believed, how we were thinking about the molecule, and what it meant for individuals using our NR products, like NiaCel 400 or Resveracel.

At Thorne, we are obsessed with innovation, and not just with our ingredients and their forms, but also with the purity and potency of our formulas. Our Research and Development Department goes above and beyond to assure the most innovative solutions for personal health and wellness, and that’s what I’m most proud of.

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