Many people seem to be on heightened alert with what they are putting into their bodies. Schools are slowly moving away from serving overly processed foods in their cafeterias, and many consumers are opting for organic over "conventional" foods that may contain pesticides, fertilizers, or genetic modifications. This trend is crossing over into the pharmaceutical industry as well, with consumers taking a chance on more natural alternatives to chemical based drugs.
Warnings about zinc based products
Most over-the-counter chemically based cold medicines contain zinc. Although there seems to be some benefit associated with zinc in treating the cold, researchers have yet to figure out the most effective dosage, formulation, or appropriate length of time it should be taken. With these uncertainties, the FDA issued a warning for zinc-based nasal sprays, stating that they can cause a permanent loss of smell. Scientists agree that zinc could destroy the nerves in the nose that are needed for smell. On June 16, 2009, the FDA urged consumers to discontinue using the Zicam Cold Remedy nasal gel and any other intra-nasal zinc medications. Zicam issued a recall of their Cold Remedy nasal gel a few days following the FDA warning.
Other chemicals, other risks
Most topical decongestant nasal sprays include the chemical Oxymetazoline, which can be found in Afrin [made by Merck and Co. (MRK)], Vicks Sinex [made by The Procter & Gamble Company (PG)], Zicam, and many others. This drug poses its own set of possible side effects, including the high risk of becoming dependant on it. When using any nasal spray with Oxymetazoline, it is recommended that usage should not extend over three days or rebound congestion can occur. People who have used this drug for more than three days often rely on this drug to treat their chronic congestion caused by rebound congestion. In addition to rebound congestion and dependency, the FDA lists this drug in category C for use by pregnant women, indicating that they cannot rule out all risks to the fetus and it is recommended that women who are pregnant consult their doctor before using.
Enter homeopathic remedies
Through the use of homeopathic medicine, innovative companies are working to create treatment options with almost no risk of side-effects or drug interactions for treating the common cold and flu. These types of treatment options, although still not a cure, have been shown to alleviate the same symptoms as drugs containing zinc and other chemicals.
Natural, homeopathic medicines have slowly been popping up in big drug stores around the country. It seems to be a safer option for the treatment of both the cold and flu, remedying the symptoms without risking the dangerous side effects associated with chemical based drugs.
One homeopathic treatment that has shown some success is an interesting over-the-counter medicine for stage 2 (moderate to severe) pain called Cobroxin, with its active ingredient Asian Cobra venom. Produced by the Nutra Pharma Corp. (NPHC.OB), Cobroxin is the first clinically proven OTC treatment of stage 2 chronic pain, which offers a safe and less costly alternative to opiate based drugs such as Vicodin [made by Abbott Laboratories (ABT)] and Percocet [made by Endo Pharmaceuticals (ENDP)], or acetaminophen drugs like Tylenol [made by Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)]. For those who find the thought of ingesting cobra venom a little unnerving, there are some OTC homeopathic treatments with less offensive active ingredients.
TheraBiogen Inc. (OTC BB--TRAB), founded in 2000, is a company who specializes in manufacturing and distributing homeopathic nasal sprays for treating the cold, flu, and allergies. These products, sold under the TheraMax name, are made from natural ingredients pre-approved on the Homœopathic Pharmacopœia of the United States website and do not contain zinc. TheraMax products are sold in over 12,000 locations, including some of the largest drug retailers. The active ingredients in the TheraMax Cold & Flu Relief and Allergy Relief sprays have strong medicinal properties. The first active ingredient, Camellia sinensis, is more commonly known as the tea plant, from which Chinese green tea comes from. Used traditionally by the Chinese to treat a long list of ailments, including asthma, green tea has shown to benefit patients suffering from the flu by blocking the absorption of the influenza virus into healthy cells.
The second main ingredient in the TheraMax homeopathic Cold & Flu relief spray is Sambucus nigra, or black elderberry, another plant with powerful medicinal properties. It has been used as a natural treatment for upper respiratory cold infections, cough, bronchitis, and fever. In a study that was published in the Journal of Alternative Complimentary Medicine, black elderberry showed impressive results in a placebo controlled, double blind study treating influenza B. A different study published in 2004 showed that 93% of patients suffering from the flu who took elderberry extract were symptom-free within two days, compared to six days for patients who received placebo.
In addition to positive clinical results and consumer reviews, homeopathic remedies can reach drugstore shelves without the regulatory hassles conventional drugs have to go through. Homeopathic remedies are regulated in the same way that over-the-counter drugs are, but because homeopathic products contain such small amounts of active ingredients, they do not have to endure the same safety and efficacy testing as new prescription and non-prescription drugs, allowing them to hit the market shelves in a much shorter time span.
This factor is significant not only from a low research and development (R&D) cost to market factor, but products produced from natural elements of the earth can be quite profitable for the manufacturer. With the FDA approval cycle taking up to 10-15 years for the approval process, and adding significant costs to the end product along the way, homeopathic-based products could be a hidden gem for investors as all factors are essentially lower costs and the market process is much faster.
With the growing trend for safe, homeopathic options, TheraBiogen seems to have the momentum in its favor and presents a window of opportunity for investors. TheraBiogen has a market cap. of 1.61 million with a 52 week range of 0.03-1.28, and they last traded at 0.028.
Having a larger pharmaceutical company invest in the homeopathic field could provide a nice boom for the industry. Taking the lead, Hi-Tech Pharmacal Co. (HITK), a generic pharmaceutical company, purchased two brands of homeopathic nasal sprays from Dynova Laboratories on March 8, 2012.
It will take some time to see if a small, homeopathic based firm can compete with the likes of big pharma for a profitable revenue stream, but things are looking good with the products on the shelves having strong sales and demand. Homeopathic remedies represent a window of opportunity for early-in investors, one that may not be open as more competition like big pharma jumps in.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.