/Ole Miss strikes $5 million essential oil research deal with doTerra

Ole Miss strikes $5 million essential oil research deal with doTerra

Nonprofit Mississippi News The University of Mississippi has signed a $5 million agreement to study essential oils. This is in response to doTerra’s 2020 warning that it would stop claiming its products can cure or prevent COVID-19. DoTerra, a Utah-based business, describes this partnership as “a natural fit.” It was formed several years ago when Russell Osguthorpe (chief medical officer at doTerra) and Ikhlas Khan (director of UM’s National Center for Natural Products Research), got to talking at an Oxford conference. Khan and Osguthorpe reached an agreement to establish a center to study lavender oil. This essential oil is doTerra’s most popular. DoTerra provided 42 samples of lavender essential oils to Khan in exchange for half a million dollars. Khan published a study in peer-reviewed journals last year. In March, UM extended its partnership with doTerra for five years. According to Mississippi Today, the research will be funded by $5 million from doTerra. Osguthorpe released the following statement: “Together we can help create higher standards that allow the world to view the true benefits doTERRA essential oil.” Public universities are often a poor choice for research partners. Private money is a popular option. However, UM’s collaboration with doTerra raises questions as to how a university can stamp approval on multi-level marketing companies that conceal an exploitative business model. Interviews with doTerra and UM revealed that the partnership was focused on essential oils research and not connected to doTerra’s business setup. John O’Hara of the Better Business Bureau of Mississippi asked if consumers would understand the relationship between the two companies. O’Hara suggested that consumers should think about the credentials. O’Hara said, “If they (doTerra), throw the University of Mississippi logo onto their products, it does give a company credibility.” O’Hara added, “Or would they view it as, ‘The University of Mississippi is doing that? It must be good. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate essential oils as drugs. Therefore, companies cannot claim that essential oils can treat certain diseases. DoTerra has not been stopped by this. The Federal Trade Commission warned doTerra in 2020 about its advertising of products as COVID-19 cures. The FTC sent a letter describing multiple claims made in the letter by doTerra’s distributors. These are employees of the company who not only sell essential oils, but also recruit others to do so. “An image showing peppermint and lemon essential oils bottles from doTERRA, with the hashtags #covid #prevention.” The FTC sent the letter to doTerra earlier this year. It was asking for further action as doTerra’s distributors continued to make claims that essential oils could prevent COVID. Josh Gladden, UM’s vice-chancellor for research and sponsored programmes, said that Mississippi Today’s collaboration with doTerra is focused upon studying a potentially useful product. Gladden stated that he understood that warning letters are often issued by the FTC. He stated that “in that particular case, you understand, that was a claim made in their (doTerra) sales department on Social Media, but it wasn’t an organized marketing strategy of the company leadership or company direction.” Mississippi Today responded that doTerra’s leadership chose a multi-level marketing plan. Gladden stated, “That’s right.” And how they get their product out there? Well, they have chosen a multilevel marketing approach. That’s their choice. We are confident that the company is committed to producing high-quality products no matter where they go. Gladden said, “And honestly, I’m not going to comment on the multi-level market strategy.” “That’s their business plan that they have decided upon. However, every company must have a strategy for marketing. “What would you do if you had $300 more per month? $2,000 per month DoTerra’s website asks, “How much do you charge for $10,000 per month?” DoTerra’s website is filled with such statements. The truth is, most distributors of doTerra don’t make thousands each month. According to doTerra’s income statement, just over half of the distributors didn’t earn a dollar in 2020. Only 5% of doTerra distributors earned more than $1,370 per month in the same year. This is a low-income wage, and this was before expenses. DoTerra was started in 2008 by executives from Young Living, a multi-level marketing company that sells essential oil. DoTerra’s distributors are required to buy at least $100 worth products at wholesale discounts each month in order to make money. Multi-level marketing is legal and distributors get bonuses for recruiting others to join their “downline”. Many stories have been told of the harm caused by MLMs. Distributors are forced into bankruptcy, they get drained of thousands of dollars, and their relationships are strained. Friends promise that the product will cure diseases. Still, doTerra claims it’s different. The company states that there are many Multi-Level Marketing Companies out there, but not all MLMs can be equal. It also offers a website explaining why you should join. DoTerra’s essential oils are “most trusted, most tested” and that is why it stands out. This kind of claim — “most trusted, most tested” — is where partnerships are made with universities, according to Robert FitzPatrick. FitzPatrick is an expert in multi-level marketing and author of the book “Ponzinomics.” However, FitzPatrick stated that UM’s study of doTerra essential oils “doesn’t really matter to the scheme.” This has nothing to do (doTerra’s) status as a multi-level market company. doTerra has partnerships at Oklahoma University, Utah University, and Southern Adventist University. The multi-level marketing company is proudest of its relationship to Khan and the National Center for Natural Products Research. It’s clear why. Khan’s reputation precedes Khan. The dean of UM’s school of pharmacy, Osguthorpe, said that Khan is a “world-renowned” individual who has won “possibly all the awards that you can.” The Industry Engagement Council is responsible for corporate-sponsored research at the University of Mississippi. Its office is located in the Brandt Memory House. This historic building also houses the university’s foundation. Hughes Miller, the council’s director, was instrumental in forming it. The council is called “your gateway to Ole Miss”. Miller serves as director and assists with a variety of research partnerships at university. It could be a contract for students to study at Viking Range or a fellowship program at a law school with companies such as FedEx, C-Spire or Yates Construction. Miller’s work includes both “discovery calls” as well as non-disclosure agreements. Each agreement is different. Khan was the one who cultivated doTerra’s partnership. Miller stated that “it’s not cookie cutter.” Miller believes that corporate-sponsored research is a good thing for Mississippi’s economic development. It is also beneficial for the university. Gladden explained that sponsored-research brings in $60-$75 million annually to UM’s Oxford campus. Just as much is brought in by the University of Mississippi Medical Center. This is money that the Legislature could provide in public funding. However, appropriations for Institutions of Higher Learning never recovered from the Great Recession. In states where funding has dropped for higher education, public universities have a greater incentive to accept private funds for research. Gladden explained to Mississippi Today that sponsored research is a way for the university to consider the possibility of each partnership. “We want to know the history of the company. What is its reputation? Are we willing to join the bandwagon? How is this gonna look from the outside?” Gladden stated that UM turned down corporate sponsors whose practices it did not support. He would not identify those companies. Gladden said that each case will be evaluated individually. “Now, scientists and researchers wouldn’t likely be so focused on that. However, our university leadership could be focusing on this. If you are wondering where we draw the line? It depends on how detailed it is. UM provides more consistency in its guidelines for ethically conducting corporate partnerships, which include disclosing conflicts. Companies can still have input into study design and framing. Khan stated that NCNPR kept doTerra informed about the results of the lavender oil research, but did not give the company any input on whether or not the article was published. The International Conference on the Science of Botanicals was held in Oxford, England, late March. It brought together hundreds of scientists, researchers, and policymakers, as well as officials from the Food and Drug Administration. The ICSB, a brick building located just off the MS-Highway, has become the most popular annual event at Oxford Conference Center since 2000. Under Khan’s leadership, ICSB became known for its “nonthreatening atmosphere,” according to NutraIngredients-USA, a publication that covers the dietary supplement industry. The conference brings together FDA officials and private companies to discuss federal regulation, which can be a contentious topic. DoTerra was the title sponsor this year. Osguthorpe was the chief medical officer of the company. He spoke at a session called “industry Perspectives” which also featured a scientist from Amway (another multi-level marketing company). Khan’s initial study on lavender oil suggested a new method to assess the quality of essential oils. This includes those that have been diluted with other substances or are adulterated. Khan stated that he hopes Khan’s new framework will be “a tool for everyone,” including regulator agencies. Osguthorpe stated that the purpose of their relationship is to scientifically understand and substantiate the product. Osguthorpe said that the relationship was not about a business model. There is no mention of anything superior to any.” 51.9% of 27 lavender essential oil samples DoTerra provided were found to be adulterated or poor quality. NCNPR, however, found that 62.5% of those samples were either poor or adulterated from other sources. Khan’s center, which receives funding from doTerra, is currently studying peppermint oil. It could be cinnamon oil. Khan said that the market would decide what essential oil doTerra wants NCNPR study next. Khan stated that he sees the doTerra partnership as an opportunity to uncover scientific knowledge. It has nothing to do the multi-level marketing strategy of the company. Khan stated that Khan doesn’t believe they will not partner with them due to their bad reputation. Khan said that they could tell Khan, “We can’t help but to say, “We can’t help, you’ve had an FTC violation in the past” — where else will they go to get it (the study done right) done? “The truth is, the company exists, they’re there, and they are selling it.” “If they ask us a scientific question we can solve, I don’t think it is the right thing to refuse anyone or any place if they are trying to do things right.”