To contribute through innovation to safe, sustainable and efficient (health)care, is IMS Medical’s mission. Last year, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research developed a gel for them that makes swallowing medicines easier and masks their, often bitter, taste. "Healthcare providers are already enthusiastic," says René Mijs, commercial director at IMS.
The technologists at IMS Medical usually develop healthcare devices, such as pill grinders or robots that clean and make hospital beds. "But we see that hospitals have a growing need for non-technical solutions," says Mijs.
Twenty percent of the elderly have difficulty with swallowing, rising to 40% and more in nursing homes. "A pill grinder helps, but doesn’t fit every need" says Mijs. "Some pills taste very bitter, and even more so when they are crushed; some pills should not be crushed because such an approach can change the working mechanism of the medication and
is not equally-suited to every patient" Such medicines are frequently
taken with applesauce or yogurt. This adds significantly to the care staff’s
“Can we develop a universal swallowing gel that masks the bitter taste of pills and lets them slide down easily?”, asked IMS Medical. A brilliant idea that would fit seamlessly into our existing portfolio, thought the commercial director. "But as much as we know about technical devices, we know very little about foods."
The company began looking for a partner with the right knowledge, experience and expertise, and quickly came to Wageningen Food &
Biobased Research. "I graduated as a biochemist and so I knew right away they would be the perfect partner with the right knowledge," says Mijs. "Wageningen has a reputation for excellent science and collaborative
A wealth of knowledge Experts from Wageningen Food & Biobased
Research, with a deep understanding of swallowing problems in the elderly, proposed to tackle the research question in a practical and multidisciplinary way. "Their proposal convinced us," says Mijs.
Together,the two parties created a project plan and, in May 2017, Wageningen set to work. The team’s product developers formulated a number of recipes for different taste variants and textures; their experts on consumer studies guided the product through a number of panels, where it was judged on taste (masking) and swallowability. Then they approached members of SenTo: a consumer panel Wageningen Food & Biobased Research often uses when researching food choices, product experience and eating behavior in older consumers. In addition to being acceptable to the consumer, the gel also had to be affordable.
By September 2017 they had a recipe, which Wageningen took to IMS to continue development together. The transparent, cellulose-based swallowing-aid gel, came onto the market in 2018. "For the two flavors the panels liked the most - coffee and anise - we made a trial pack and presented the product to consumers in thirty countries," says Mijs. "Based on their reactions, we are developing variations in gel thickness and taste."
Taken by the hand
Mijs looks back very positively on the collaboration with Wageningen Food & Biobased Research: their experts and scientists took us by the hand and walked us through a world that was completely new to us," he says. "They helped us to clarify our questions and always delivered concrete results that moved the program forward."
At IMS Medical they are already working on their next challenge: global
certification for the swallowing gel. "It still has to be decided whether
the gel is a food, or a medical device: it sits on the border between the two", says Mijs. "Perhaps Wageningen can help us with this too?"
René Mijs is the commercial director at IMS Medical based in Grootebroek,