From Market Trends to OTC Innovation Opportunities for Immune Health

By: DSM Pharma Solutions Editors

How the current landscape is transformed 

Covid-19 continues to pose an unprecedented global health risk to patients and healthcare systems, alike. The current crisis has challenged public health awareness and underscored the critical interplay between optimal nutrient intake and immune response. To be sure, this has accelerated consumer trends, whereby individuals have increasingly invested in improving their overall health and wellbeing.   

DSM recently hosted a webinar exploring recent global trends in the consumer healthcare market. The event reflected on a number of relevant topics such as the quickly evolving science behind nutrient intake and immune response, while providing essential forward-looking insight into OTC innovation opportunities in a rapidly evolving landscape. The webinar featured renowned experts Nicholas Hall, Executive Chairman & Creative Solutions Director, Nicholas Hall Group of Companies and Dr. Manfred Eggersdorfer, Professor for Healthy Aging at the University Medical Center.  

Summarizing global trends and consumer insights

According to Nicholas Hall, the consumer healthcare market has continued to experience steady growth, with a ~5% CAGR from 2015-2019. While top-line growth would likely remain steady in 2020, subcategory trends tell a different story. To date, five of the top ten growth categories are tied to prevention. Much of this impressive growth has occurred in established product classes; ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and calciferol (vitamin D) categories have grown 16.1% and 15.2%, respectively, while immune OTC solutions have accelerated 24.6%. Perhaps not surprisingly, brands experiencing the most significant growth are those with simple, direct and scientifically sound messaging.  

The beneficial role of vitamins and minerals on the immune system

While the Covid-19 crisis represents a tragic circumstance, pandemics are not historically uncommon. As the medical community and public health leaders grapple with the present and begin looking to the future, it is important to carefully assess the impact of current clinical practices on immune system function and overall health outcomes. 

Immune health can be impacted via extrinsic mechanisms (i.e. physical/chemical defense methods such as facemask utilization, social distancing, etc.), as well as via intrinsic mechanisms (i.e. innate and adaptive immune responses). The preponderance of evidence suggests that a balanced immune system requires multiple micronutrients, including vitamins A, D, C, E, B6, and B12, folate, zinc, iron, copper, and selenium, all of which play vital, often synergistic roles at various stages of the immune response. Mechanisms of impact include but are not limited to, activation, differentiation and maturation of cells relevant to the immune system. Thus, adequate vitamin and mineral intake is essential to ensuring proper immune system structure and function.1

Professor Eggersdorfer has dubbed the Covid-19 pandemic a ‘Vitamin D pandemic’ of sorts. Calciferol exerts its effects through a variety of mechanisms such as beneficially impacting cellular function, inducing antimicrobial peptides such as human cathelicidin and mitigating the cytokine storm (i.e. systematic inflammatory response) that has so readily been described in severe, decompensated forms of Covid-19.2 In fact, in a recent cohort of 489 patients who had a calciferol level measured in the year before Covid-19 testing, the relative risk of testing positive for Covid-19 was approximately 1.8 times greater for patients with likely deficient calciferol status compared with patients with likely sufficient status, a difference that was statistically significant. In this study, patients were deemed to be vitamin D deficient if their most recent serum vitamin D levels within 1 year before their first Covid-19 tests were less than 20 ng/mL for 25-hydroxycholecalciferol or less than 18 pg/mL for 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol.3

According to Calder et al., therapeutic intake of vitamin APIs is a safe, effective, and low-cost method to help eliminate nutritional gaps and support optimal immune function. Intake should generally follow recommended daily allowance (RDA) limits set by expert authorities, such as the European Food Safety Authority and, in the United States, the IOM. However, it should also be noted that optimal nutritional support for the immune system may require intakes above the RDA – albeit still within recommended upper safety limits – for micronutrients such as ascorbic acid and calciferol.4

Future innovation opportunities

Moving forward, consumers and healthcare providers will gravitate toward products that are easy to use and solve an unmet clinical need. Products associated with scientifically robust datasets will continue to increase in prominence and experience widespread commercial success; as such, organizations will need to invest in gold standard, randomized clinical trials in peer-reviewed journals to demonstrate therapeutic value and ultimately impact standards of care. 

Future vitamin and mineral API-based therapies will become increasingly critical aspects of the clinical armamentarium. Topics of research interest include vitamin + mineral API combination effects and/or synergies, the impact of pre- and probiotics on improving and maintaining a healthy gut microbiota and the role of various vitamin API metabolites (e.g. 25-hydroxycholecalciferol) in future clinical treatment modalities.  

Partner with DSM for access to our broad portfolio of APIs, customized solutions, and expert services aimed at supporting your entire product life cycle. Contact us for more information. 

Published on

21 January 2021


  • Industry News
  • Article


4 min read

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[1] A. Gombart et al. A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System – Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection. Nutrients 2020;12(236):1-41.

[2] W. Grant et al. Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Risk of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections and Deaths. Nutrients 2020;12(988):1-19.

[3] D. Meltzer et al. Association of Vitamin D Status and Other Clinical Characteristics with COVID-19 Test Results. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2019722.

[4] P. Calder et al. Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System is an Important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections. Nutrients 2020;12(1181):1-10.

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