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  • Writer's pictureShelly Albaum

New Blog Covers Elysium-ChromaDex "Death Match"

A newish Medium blog called Neo.Life has weighed in with their coverage of the Elysium-ChromaDex battle. You can read Neo.Life's article here:

It surprises me that there has been so little coverage of the Elysium-ChromaDex dispute in the mainstream and trade press. You'd think that the parties' home-town papers like the Boston Globe and the Orange County Register would consider it newsworthy when one of their local small businesses gets involved in a three-front federal litigation apparently involving hundreds of millions of dollars.

So I welcome Neo.Life's attention.

ChromaDex President Rob Fried recently said, in the course of refusing to comment on the litigation, something like, "Of course we have been advised by legal counsel not to comment on pending litigation, but the documents are all available to the public, the facts speak for themselves, and we feel very comfortable with the facts." [Seeking Alpha's transcripts are broken right now, so I can't verify the exact quote; I wish that ChromaDex and others would stop relying on Seeking Alpha for their transcript service.]

With that said, I don't entirely agree with the characterization of the events in the Neo.Life article.

First and most important, I think the article misinterprets the nature of the dispute.

For example, the author highlights the parties similarities by suggesting that they both have billionaire investors, they both of scientific advisors, and they both make similar claims for NR.

But this glosses over the critical differences between the two -- one side is the inventor, the patent owner, the patent licensee, and the supplier, the other side is NOT the inventor and NOT the patent owner, NOT the patent licensee, and is a retail distributor. These facts have not only critical legal significance in a life extension death match, but also moral significance. It's not always obvious, but the rules that the courts apply are trying to get to the morally correct outcome -- justice is about who deserves what.

The author also draws improper inferences from the facts. For example, she says,

"Elysium is a private company, so it’s not clear how well Basis has been selling. But it was enough for Elysium to put in an order in June 2016 that was three times bigger than normal, eventually agreeing to pay nearly $3 million for it.."

Well, no. It is very clear that the $3M order took an entire year for Elysium to sell, which was inconsistent with Elysium's claims in the court documents that the larger order was due to a rapid sales increase. ChromaDex suggests that the purpose of the large order was to stockpile a year's worth of inventory. We haven't seen the Discovery documents, so we don't know what the evidence says about sales rates, but based on what we do know about how long the inventory lasted, we cannot assume from the large order that sales were ramping up.

Also, the $3M number is not right. It was closer to $4M counting the royalties that ChromaDex has since disclaimed for another reason, but which were in fact the amount of the order that Elysium placed.

The lack of context in this statement seems to me to present another half-truth:

In the first half of this year, ChromaDex stopped supplying Elysium with ingredients.

It is certainly true that ChromaDex stopped supplying Elysium with ingredients, but not true in the same way that Elysium simply stopped paying for ingredients. Elysium negotiated a three-year agreement that ChromaDex terminated at the end of three years according to the terms of the agreement by providing 90 days written notice. The article's account leaves the impression that both parties are behaving similarly -- one stopped paying, the other stopped supplying -- when in fact it is very difficult to find a mathematical explanation as to how Elysium was entitled to pay zero for a year's worth of product that it accepted and sold, and it is undisputed that ChromaDex was entitled to terminate the contract.

The article is also sloppy with the facts when it says that Nicotinamide Riboside is "a compound also known as vitamin B3". It's not. Niacin is the compound known as vitamin B3. And if there were no difference between Niacin and Niagen then there would be no story here.

NR is also not properly referred to as a "longevity pill" for "life extension." I think that both the science and the two companies claim that it is healthspan, not lifespan, that is getting extended. In other words, the effects of aging may be diminished or deferred, but I haven't seen any experimental subjects living significantly longer. So the phrase "anti-aging" might be within bounds, but life-extending probably is not.

The article seems to gather more quotes from people associated with Elysium than people associated with ChromaDex, which results in biased narratives like this:

Elysium used to buy its ingredients from an 18-year-old natural products company called ChromaDex. But earlier this year, ChromaDex began to focus on reaching consumers itself. It sold off part of its business and accepted cash infusions totaling nearly $50 million to market its own version of one of the two active ingredients in Basis.

That is how Elysium tells the story -- ChromaDex used to have distributors, but then for some reason decided to cut them out. A little context helps explain what happened: Elysium contractually limited ChromaDex's ability to sell through other vendors, then bought up a year's supply of inventory, and refused to pay for it. Under those circumstances, ChromaDex's decision to stop using third party distributors was not just reasonable -- it was practically compelled.

And some of the quotes don't seem to me reliable. For example, the article quotes Eric Verdun as saying, "There’s no evidence they are correcting the problem in older people." I believe there are now two or three human studies that show oral supplementation increases NAD+ availability in older people, which is, according to my understanding, the problem to be corrected.

Verdin is not presented as a skeptic of the theory that NAD+ replenishment could have significant anti-aging effects. He is quoted in the article as saying, "“The loss of NAD that occurs during aging, I predict will end up being a major pathway in our fight to delay aging and the diseases associated with it. The data is really there."

So the apparent discrepancy between his two statements "The data is really there" and "There is no evidence" ought to be plumbed a little deeper.

There is a great deal of subtlety in noted Alzheimer's expert Rudy Tanzi's quoted statement, “I don’t want to say anybody should take Niagen to prevent Alzheimer’s, but my goal is to investigate: can Niagen help in Alzheimer’s?” In other words, we don't know if it will help, but it looks like it might. These scientists perceive ethical duties to not overstate findings. That's fine for scientific journals, but if you are person at serious risk for Alzheimers, why on earth wouldn't you take a vitamin that seems to prevent it in mice, when there is no evidence that it is unsafe? Tanzi himself takes NR every day, so even he seems to believe that the cost-benefit analysis favors taking it.

Verdin would apparently disagree with my assertion that there is no evidence that NR is unsafe, because according to the article,

Verdin said he is also worried that boosting NAD levels might in rare cases spur cancer — and that if something does go wrong with the supplement, it could tarnish this whole area of scientific research. “I have some concern about the field of aging jumping ahead of itself and embracing unproven treatments,” he said. “As a physician and scientist in the field of aging, I’m a little worried this is the type of thing that might yield some bad news that will hurt all of us.

We're not talking about a pesticide or some complex molecule. This is a vitamin, very closely related to vitamin B3, which is also found in milk. No other vitamin has been shown to be carcinogenic, and I have heard no proposal of any mechanism by which NR might prove carcinogenic, nor any similar molecule that is carcinogenic.

The far greater likelihood is just the opposite -- that by allowing cells to metabolize as if they were younger they will more effectively resist stresses from ACTUAL carcinogens that could lead to cancer.

There is, of course, a risk that while I am watching the Geminid meteor showers a meteorite will hit me on the head and kill me. But that is a very low risk, and there is no particular reason to think it will happen, so it won't keep me from going star watching. Scientists as well as citizens need to speak rationally and not sensationally about risks.

My takeaway is that the story of this dispute is complicated, and difficult to understand, especially for someone who is not a legal or technical expert and therefore isn't in a good position to evaluate whether it matters that a contract was breached or terminated, or whether it matters that Niacin and Niagen, or Resveratrol and PteroPure are identical, substantially similar, or crucially different.

Although I welcome this additional attention to the matter, I think we would be better served by articles that tested, rather than simply repeated, the parties assertions -- especially when the parties' respective factual accounts are so wildly at odds.

One last point. The article says,

And overall, Elysium says, its new version of NR is better than ever, thanks to a new supply chain that “has allowed us to take an exceptional product and make it even purer,” the company’s statement said. [emphasis added]

That's interesting, if true. Elysium has argued the opposite in its most recent court filing in New York, that its statement that Mystery NR was more pure than Niagen was a "one-off private reply to a customer query." (Reply Brief, page 1, apparently responding to Opposition Brief pages 12-13). Well, maybe a two-off, because now we have heard it again.

I won't be surprised if Cooley checks the source of the quote in this article.

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