NEW YORK – New York-based Indian American entrepreneur Harsha Chigurupati, 33, son of the founder of Granules India Ltd., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of off-patent drugs, has created a compound that, he says, helps protect against the liver and DNA damage caused by drinking alcohol.
Chigurupati saw the damage that pain relievers like acetaminophen can do to the liver. He watched as scientists at Granules sought to mitigate those effects using additives. In 2002, he left Hyderabad, India, for Boston University and, after a night of drinking, woke up with a headache and an idea, reported The Wall Street Journal.
After graduation, Chigurupati spent 12 years and $35 million to create the compound. In 2006, he hired six biopharmacologists to comb through the ingredients that the Food and Drug Administration deems safe to consume. By 2013, they settled on a three-ingredient formula: potassium sorbate, glycyrrhizin and mannitol, an anti-inflammatory derived from licorice root.
Chigurupati created a company (Chigurupati Technologies) and named his compound NTX—short for “no-tox.” Compared with rats given plain vodka, rats given NTX-infused vodka showed a 40% to 70% reduction of biomarkers known to indicate liver damage, according to studies funded by Chigurupati, reported the Wall Street Journal.
Human trials, also funded by Chigurupati, began in 2013. In a study conducted by a California research team, biomarkers that presage liver damage were 93% lower for human participants who got drunk on NTX-infused vodka versus those who drank plain vodka. Later studies showed that NTX-infused vodka reduced the amount of DNA damage caused by drinking.
Later that year, Chigurupati joined with Bellion, a Secaucus, N.J.-based spirits brand, to infuse its vodka with NTX just after distillation. He hoped to upend the liquor industry with a new category called “functional spirits,” a term he trademarked, and envisioned labels informing the public of NTX’s reputed health benefits.
However, he has been since then stonewalled by the agency that regulates such claims, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
According to the agency, “the proposed labeling and advertising statements create a misleading impression that consumption of alcohol beverages infused with NTX will protect consumers from certain serious health risks associated with both moderate and heavy levels of alcohol consumption.” Claiming that NTX “reduces the risk of alcohol-induced liver diseases,” for instance, could distract consumers from the health risks NTX doesn’t protect against (addiction, birth defects) and also from the fact that drinking NTX-infused vodka still raises one’s risk for liver diseases, even if less so than its unadulterated counterparts.
An earlier report by Forbes said Chigurupati’s specialized blend of three ingredients, each individually approved by the Food & Drug Administration, Glycyrrhizin, Manna sugar and potassium sorbate “renders the spirit liver and DNA friendly…actually protecting the liver and DNA…yet it does not affect the taste or the buzz,” citing the company’s contention.
Bellion Vodka is available in 22 states right now for around $30 a bottle, noted Forbes.
Chigurupati aims to roll out another 16 spirits using NTX over the next three years, hoping his long effort to develop NTX will remake the spirits landscape—or at least give drinks that will take less of a toll on your body.