How Li Ka-shing profits from this loss-making firm's 'healthy ageing' product

PHOTO: Youtube/South China Morning Post

Li Ka-shing, one of Hong Kong's best known tycoons in his nineties, puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to fighting ageing.

He has been taking Tru Niagen, a "healthy ageing supplement" made by one of his investees, since he was first introduced to it more than two years ago, according to Frank Jaksch, the co-founder and chairman of ChromaDex.

Li's private venture capital unit Horizons Ventures ploughed US$25 million (S$33.9 million) into Nasdaq-listed ChromaDex in April 2017 and is now its largest shareholder, with a 13 per cent stake.

That was at the time when ChromaDex, which is listed on Nasdaq, had a US$46 million fundraising drive to transition towards the consumer products market from the low margin ingredients supply business.

ChromaDex reported a loss of US$33 million last year, reflecting its fourth straight annual loss, even as Li made a paper gain thanks to a 42 per cent rise in the company's shares since his investment. A call into Li's press person about his use of Tru Niagen was not immediately returned.

Watsons, the health and beauty chain of CK Hutchison Holdings, a company controlled by the Li family, launched Tru Niagen throughout its Hong Kong retail network beginning in September 2017.

"It is one of the best-selling supplement products in Hong Kong," Jaksch said, adding the vast majority of ChromaDex sales are in North America.

He said ChromaDex hopes rising sales in Asia will help the company to reach break-even in six to 12 months.

Frank Jaksch, co-Founder and executive chairman of ChromaDex sits down with the SCMP in Tsim Sha Tsui East on July 12, 2019. PHOTO: South China Morning Post

The patented Tru Niagen contain a synthesised form of vitamin B3 known as nicotinamide riboside (NR).

The nutrient is also found in milk, but in such tiny amounts that it would be impractical as a source for the daily recommended levels suggested by ChromaDex, he said.

Jaksch said scientific studies have proven that NR can boost the level of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), an enzyme vital to cellular metabolism that turns food into energy and repairs damaged DNA.

Consumption of Tru Niagen was found to be effective in boosting NAD and did not cause discernable adverse side effects, according to an eight-week clinical study involving 132 adults.

The study was conducted by the company and released publically on July 8.

According to a research paper published in 2017 by the US-based National Institute on Aging, evidence has suggested that NAD declines occur in various tissues during ageing, and bolstering cellular NAD levels might retard aspects of ageing and forestall some age-related diseases.

But that is not enough for ChromaDex to claim Tru Niagen has "anti-ageing" benefits under US Food and Drug Administration rules that require evidentiary support from published scientific studies, Jaksch said.

It can only claim Tru Niagen promotes "healthy ageing".

"There are hundreds of studies showing that by raising NAD, there are certain benefits associated with ageing," he said. "But there is no way to do clinical trials on ageing, which affects different body parts with different people and is related to genetics, lifestyle, diet, alcohol consumption and sleep."

Li Ka-shing's tips on how to make more money

  • Having trouble envisioning yourself with your own home and a car in the near future? The richest man in Asia, Li Ka-shing, has some tips for you.
  • Lee suggests that wage-earners put their monthly salary proportionately into five sets of funds with different purposes.
  • The first fund with 30% of your salary, second with 20%, third with 15%, fourth with 10%, and fifth with 25%.
  • The first set of funds is used for living expenses. It's a simple way of living and you can only be assigned to less than twenty dollars a day. A daily breakfast of vermicelli, an egg and a cup of milk.
  • When you are young, the body will not have too many problems for a few years with this way of living, he says.
  • This will make you well off. Your phone bills can be budgeted at RMB 100. You can buy your friends 2 lunches a month, each at $150.
  • Who should you buy lunch for? Always remember to buy lunch for people who are more knowledgeable than you, richer than you or people who have helped you in your career. Make sure you do that every month.
  • After one year, your circle of friends should have generated tremendous value for you. Your reputation, influence, added value will be clearly recognised. You'll also enhance your image of being good and generous.
  • Monthly spend about RMB 50 to RMB 100 to buy books. Because you don't have a lot of money, you should pay attention to learning. When you buy the books, read them carefully and learn the lessons and strategies that is being taught in the book. Each book, after reading them, put them into your own language to tell the stories.Sharing with others can improve your credibility and enhance the affinity.
  • Also save up $200 per month to attend a training course. When you have higher income or additional savings, try to participate in more advanced training. When you participate in good training, not only do you learn good knowledge, you also get to meet like-minded friends who are not easy to come by.
  • Reward yourself by traveling at least once a year. Continue to grow from the experience of life. Stay in youth hostels to save cost.
  • In a few years you would have travelled to many countries and have different experiences. Use that experience to recharge yourself so that you'll continually have passion in your work.
  • Save the $500 in your bank and grow it as your initial startup capital. The capital can then be used to do a small business. Small business is safe. Go to wholesalers and look for products to sell. Even if you lose money, you will not lose too much money.
  • However, when you start earning money, it will boost your confidence and courage and have a whole new learning experience of running a small business.
  • Earn more and you can then begin to buy long-term investment plans and get long-term security on your financial wealth being of yourself and your families. So that no matter what happens, there will be adequate funds and the quality of life will not decline.
  • Well, after struggling for a year and if your second year salary is still RMB 2,000, then that means you have not grown as a person. You should be really ashamed of yourself. Do yourself a favour and go to the supermarket and buy the hardest tofu. Take it and smash it on your head because you deserve that.
  • Doing sales is challenging, but it is the fastest way for you to acquire the art of selling and this is a very deep skill that you will be able to carry it for the rest of your career.
  • No matter how much you earn, always remember to divide it into five parts proportionately. Always make yourself useful. Increase your investment in networking. When you increase your social investment, expand your network of contacts, your income also grows proportionately.
  • Increase your investment in learning, strengthen your self confidence, increase investment in holidays, expand your horizons and increase investment in the future, and that will ultimately increase your income.
  • Soon, you will be able to gradually realise your various dreams, the need to buy your own house, car, and to prepare an adequate education fund for your child's future.
  • Life can be designed. Career can be planned. Happiness can be prepared. You should start planning now. When you are poor, spend less time at home and more time outside. When you are rich, stay at home more and less outside. This is the art of living.
  • There is nothing wrong with being young. You do not need to be afraid of being poor. You need to know how to invest in yourself and increase your wisdom and stature. You need to know what is important in life and what is worth investing in.
  • You also need to know what you should avoid and not spend your money on. This is the essence of discipline. Try to avoid spending money on clothing, but buy a selective number of items that have class.
  • Once your livelihood is no longer an issue, use the remainder of your money to pursue your dreams. Spread your wings and dare to dream! Make sure you live an extraordinary life!
  • Everybody makes mistakes. It's what you learn from the mistakes, and promising yourself not to repeat those mistakes that matters. When you miss opportunities, don't dwell on it, as there are always new opportunities on the horizon.

There are 34 planned and ongoing trials to show how NAD levels affect specific tissues or body parts, he said.

Hong Kong-based independent healthcare analyst Tony Ren said the relationship between nutrition and health is one of the most controversial areas of biomedical research because of the difficulty of conducting large randomised clinical trials over long periods of time.

"Consequently, researchers typically use observational studies. Doing so introduces other factors that may bias the outcome," Ren said. "I am not aware of any conclusive studies that demonstrated any diet or supplement can reverse ageing or extend life."

This article was first published in South China Morning Post. 

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