- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

LONDON (Reuters) — Mars, the McLean, Va., company that made its fortune satisfying chocolate cravings, announced plans yesterday to develop medications that use a component of cocoa to help treat diabetes, strokes and vascular disease.

The company, which produces M&Ms; and Mars bars, said it hoped to make medications based on flavanols — plant chemicals with health benefits found in cocoa, as well as red wine and green tea.

Mars is now in talks with several large pharmaceutical companies for a licensing or joint-venture agreement to develop medicinal products based on its research.

After 15 years and more than $10 million worth of studies, Mars said it had developed hundreds of compounds that copy the aspirinlike blood-thinning properties of cocoa flavanols.

“We know we have an interesting and powerful property that would help people,” said Mars chief science officer Dr. Harold Schmitz.

“In order for these to be developed we need a big partner. … It takes not tens of millions but hundreds of millions of dollars to bring a product to market.”

He declined to say which companies Mars is in talks with.

“The mounting scientific evidence is extraordinary,” said Dr. Norm Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, which has collaborated with Mars on cocoa research.

“This is a scientific breakthrough that could well lead to a medical breakthrough.”

Dr. Hollenberg was chairing a two-day seminar with 20 science and medical experts in Switzerland to discuss the newest research on cocoa’s potential health benefits.

Two clinical trials have found that cocoa flavanols can boost the flow of blood to key areas of the brain, raising the possibility of treatments for dementia and stroke.

A new clinical study also has shown flavanols’ ability to improve synthesis of nitric oxide by blood vessels could aid treatment of blood circulation problems associated with long-term diabetes.

A medicinal drug based on Mars’ research would probably use synthetic compounds, although in some areas natural cocoa compounds also had shown to be quite promising, Dr. Schmitz said.

“Every month, we are making new and different compounds,” he said.

It would take about five to seven years from agreeing to a joint venture to get a product to market, he added.

Mars has already introduced CocoaVia, a nutrition bar containing 80 calories and specially preserved flavanols, which typically get destroyed in usual cocoa processing.

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