The startup was recognised as the most innovative digital solution supporting the nutraceutical industry category at the Vitafoods Startup Innovation Challenge 2023.
We spoke with Joanna Ledunger and Roland Pfeuti, co-founders of HEALTHY-LONGER about the importance of personalised approaches to mental health and bringing cutting-edge technology to the sector.
Increasing awareness about the importance of mental health – especially since the Covid-19 pandemic – has led consumers to seek out nutraceuticals that promise to support mental strength and resilience. At the same time, consumers understand that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and are often unsure about what ingredient or formulation they should take to address their specific situation.
To address this unmet need, HEALTHY-LONGER came up with the innovative concept of combining neuro-biomarker analysis to identify neuro-nutrient deficiencies impacting mental health, with highly personalised neuro-nutrient recommendations. The idea is that these plans are based on unprocessed foods available in most grocery shops, thus ensuring that consumers can easily meet their nutritional needs.
“We entered the Vitafoods Startup Innovation Challenge because we are currently looking to co-develop functional food and nutraceutical products with industry leaders based on our technology and data,” explains Pfeuti.
“The timing and nature of the award - most innovative digital technology supporting the nutraceutical industry - has been perfect for us. We were impressed by the selection process, the competence and diversity of the judges, and the quality of the questions which we received along the way.”
Neuro-biomarker-based tool for mental health
The inspiration for this innovation came from personal experience. “A few years ago, two boys in our family were struggling with mental health issues,” says Ledunger. “We noted that the mental health system, in contrast to other medical areas, worked only with symptom questionnaires and subjective data. There were no objective diagnostic tests. We also found that metabolic health was largely ignored.”
Two key untapped opportunities emerged from this experience. First, the need to develop an objective, neuro-biomarker-based diagnostic tool for mental illness. And second, the need to link mental health to metabolic health. Through this approach, HEALTHY-LONGER saw a way to identify effective, personalised, and natural functional foods and nutraceuticals that can complement current therapies.
“We of course had to deal with typical start-up challenges such as market validation, selecting the most promising go-to-market channels, raising capital, and so on,” says Pfeuti. “Given the innovative and disruptive nature of our technology and data, we were often met with scepticism. Another challenge was - and is - that we do not fit into traditional sectors. This can be a challenge for some prospective customers.”
Connecting mental health with metabolic health
Nonetheless, HEALTHY-LONGER has successfully connected the link between mental health with metabolic health, and established the basis for natural nutritional interventions to address the root causes (and not only the triggers) of mental health symptoms. Ledunger believes that the solution is effective across a range of symptom categories including low mood, depression, burn-out, fatigue, susceptibility to addiction and others.
“We are the first to offer a neuro-metabolic methodology to assess subjective symptoms together with objective neuro-biomarkers from dried urine samples,” Pfeuti explains. “This technology enables us to understand impaired bio-chemical pathways and determine co-factors and precursors (natural substances such as amino acids, vitamins, and minerals) in order to modulate neuro-metabolic pathways up or down towards an optimal range.”
A leader in neuro-metabolic technology
Moving forward, HEALTHY-LONGER wants to become the leading neuro-metabolic technology company to improve mental health. The focus will be on raising the effectiveness of current therapies, and co-developing effective, nutritional neuro-metabolic products. “We want to change the way we think of, diagnose, and treat mental health disorders,” adds Pfeuti.
Pre-clinical data from 44 non-medicated persons have already shown very promising, statistically significant results. “There are early signs of strong interest in our technology and data from both the mental health sector and the nutraceutical, functional food and food industries,” says Pfeuti. “Some large and well-established companies are already interested in pilot projects with us. Others need clinical evidence to initiate pilot and partnership projects. We will develop this in the coming months.”
Ledunger sees the company’s success at the Vitafoods Startup Innovation Challenge as confirmation that the nutraceutical industry is looking to develop evidence-based, natural, and personalised products to address mild and moderate mental health symptoms. “We intend to provide the industry with the technology and data to achieve this strategic objective, and to address a very significant unmet need,” she concludes.