At the age of just 15, Conor Kerley was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Since qualifying in dietetics from Trinity College Dublin, Kerley followed this with a PhD in nutritional interventions for heart and lung disease at UCD.
Coming from a strong research and clinical background, Kerley has always been uncomfortable with the apparent lack of scientific rigour behind many of the self-styled "health" products on the shelves. This prompted him to set up Phytaphix to create a range of nutritional supplements he could stand over from a scientific perspective.
“Initially we’re focusing on immunity and energy but we are also working on formulae for blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol,” says Kerley who has published more than 30 scientific papers on his nutrition-related research into blood pressure, lung health and immunity.
“Poor health is a common problem all over the world and nutritional products have a role to play in addressing this,” he adds. “My approach to product development is to start with the scientific journals and to look at the research on nutrients and what natural food sources containing these nutrients are backed by the best scientific evidence. This is the opposite to how many companies work. They decide how they want a new product to be delivered – in a capsule, for example – and then they figure out what chemical ingredients will go into that capsule at a low cost.”
The Phytaphix range comprises two products, Immune Phix (€45 for 150g) and COVMPAQ (€40 for 60 capsules). As the name suggests, Immune Phix is designed to boost the immune system and contains ingredients such as Irish Sea magnesium, vitamin B12, vitamin D3, selenium, zinc, matcha green tea and acerola cherry. It comes in powder form and can be added to food or drink. COVMPAQ is a capsule containing nutrients such as curcumin, quercetin and ashwagandha – considered the most important herb in Ayurvedic medicine.
“We use 100 per cent pure and premium plant-based food ingredients to make our products as opposed to synthetic, lab made chemicals,” Kerley says. “Our products are suitable for adults, children, vegans, vegetarians and those following a gluten-free diet. A single serving of Immune Phix contains the same amount of flavonoids as 15,000 bananas. The ingredients in the capsule have been chosen because of their psychological, muscle and nerve health benefits and they also support the immune system and energy levels. We went for a powder initially with Immune Phix because it was bringing something new to the segment and it marked us out as different. Ultimately, the plan is to have three versions of each product available – a powder, a capsule and a fruit gummy.”
Phytaphix is based at the Dundalk Institute of Technology and began trading in November 2020 when Immune Phix was launched. This was followed a year later by the COVMPAQ capsule. To date, Kerley has self-funded the venture to the tune of about €75,000 with a further €65,000 invested through backing from the Bord Bia/Teagasc Foodworks programme, Louth LEO and New Frontiers. Kerley plans to launch a fundraising round early next year to enter new markets, support R&D, increase the team, and roll out new products. This includes the blood pressure product which will be launched later this year.
Phytaphix products are manufactured under contract in the west of Ireland and include a number of Irish ingredients. The company is selling online and through pharmacies and health food shops. As someone living with a neurological condition Kerley is very aware of brain health and he is already teasing out a number of possibilities for products that could support those with conditions such as MS and Parkinson's. Asked what these might be Kerley will only say, "Watch this space."