- Lexington, KY
- Karla Ward
A local company with ties to the University of Kentucky plans to market a dietary supplement, skin cream and chewing gum based on blackberry extract.
Paige Shumate Short, a Paris businesswoman, and Russell Mumper, a UK researcher, are the co-founders of Four Tigers LLC, which Short calls a “berryceutical” company.
In the near future, they hope to find licensing partners — maybe a chewing gum company such as Wrigley or a supplement supplier such as GNC Ð to sell their over-the-counter products, which will not require Food and Drug Administration approval.
Short’s father, the late Wayne Shumate, began growing antioxidant-rich blackberries at WindStone Farms in Paris more than two decades ago, and Four Tigers now has an exclusive partnership with the farm.
In the longer term, Short and Mumper hope to use the revenue stream from their supplement, gum and cream to develop FDA-approved drugs that incorporate blackberry extract. Studies have found berries are full of powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
In an early study, Mumper found that the extract stopped the growth of colon cancer cells in a petri dish, but much more research would have to be done to determine whether the same would be true of cancer cells in the human body. Short said the company’s “pot of gold” would be an injectable drug.
While eating blackberries is healthful, the body does not absorb them well, and Mumper said “you’ve got to eat a lot of berries to give you an equivalent dose” to what is found in blackberry extract.
The 28 acres of blackberries grown at WindStone, which Shumate’s father founded with Billy Gatton Jones, are sold fresh and as jam to stores such as Kroger and Meijer.
“He left me with the excitement of what we were beginning to do with the blackberry,” Short said of her father. “This is a way of keeping his legacy going.”
Two years ago, Short said she read an article about Mumper’s work with Ohio State University on a study of black raspberries as a preventative for oral cancer.
“I just said ‘No, no, no. We can’t do that,'” Short recalled with a smile.
She contacted Mumper about studying blackberries, and the two have been working together since.
Short, who has invested $50,000 in the company so far, said the name Four Tigers is a reference to the economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, a nod to her days as an economics major at Georgetown College.
The company has received a grant from the Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center to develop blackberries that are extra-rich in the compounds that make the fruit so healthful.
Short hopes to set up a manufacturing plant for producing the blackberry extract, and she envisions farmers throughout the state one day growing blackberries to support it.
She finds irony in the possibility of blackberries taking the place of tobacco Ð “a cancer-causing cash crop to an anti-cancer cash crop.”
But Four Tigers is a side business for both her and Mumper.
Short worked in research and product development for her father at Kentucky Textiles, a company that at one time produced Speedo’s line of Olympic swimwear. Today, the company has morphed into Kentucky Technical Textiles, which Short and her husband, Dan Short, operate together.
Mumper’s primary research work is in nanotechnology, the process of manipulating atoms and molecules to create microminiature equipment.
“This is our therapy company,” Short said of Four Tigers.
Mumper will be leaving Kentucky in early June to take an endowed professorship in the school of pharmacy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he will also direct the Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery.
But he plans to continue working with Four Tigers, including developing new blackberry-based products, such as tea and lip balm.
Len Heller, UK’s vice president for commercialization and economic development, said Four Tigers is “an example of biotechnology and agriculture being a perfect fit.”
UK owns the intellectual property and licenses it to Four Tigers, so the university will get royalties from any product sales the company eventually makes.
Mumper and Short also have several studies lined up with other UK departments.
They hope to conduct a clinical study with the College of Dentistry to observe how the blackberry gum affects the level of bacteria in the mouth, and they have planned a mouse study to determine how the cream affects skin that has been exposed to ultraviolet rays.
“It’s a great scientist and a great business person,” Heller said of Mumper and Short. Short “knows the market. … We have the science.”