In conversation with... Massimo Mercati

Aboca was founded 40 years ago in Sansepolcro, Italy, with a unique mission: finding health solutions in nature that respect both the human body and the environment, explains Aboca CEO Massimo Mercati.

| Photo credit: Aboca

Ensuring healthcare is based on sustainability for both human beings and the environment is a key theme of the European Green Deal. Is this something you support?

Yes, it is, and we have been working with this way of thinking in mind for the past 40 years. The use of complex natural substances guarantees that there is no negative impact on the environment and offers us innovative solutions to our health needs. The human being is a complex system and complex natural substances that co-evolved with it are able to provide us with answers to a patient’s health needs.

This especially applies to the treatment of complex diseases and syndromes that are increasingly widespread and for which highly purified substances could not provide an answer so far. In order to foster innovation in this sector and promote research according to the criteria of evidence-based medicine, natural substances need to be evaluated within a proper regulatory framework.


The “key-lock model” (i.e. the pharmacological approach), which is the reference model for the scientific evaluation of highly purified synthetic substances, cannot be used to prove the composition, safety, efficacy and mechanism of action of complex substances. The European Green Deal, and especially the new EU Industrial Strategy, that the Commission will soon propose, should promote the therapeutic role of complex natural substances and recognise their potential through a stronger political and regulatory commitment.

Do you think that Europe provides the right conditions for a proper regulatory approach to natural substances?

Yes, Europe has already done a lot. The European regulatory framework is at the forefront of the world and the European Parliament has always pushed to create the conditions for our extraordinary heritage to be developed according to scientific criteria. The Regulation on Medical Devices Made of Substances, in particular, gives us an incredible opportunity to bring effective and safe products with physiological (i.e. non-pharmacological) mechanisms of action into therapy.

"We see a huge opportunity for Europe to become a leader in this sector and we believe that the time has come for the EU to invest in the development of innovative therapeutic products, following this approach"

Now that the new Regulation has been approved and the Commission and the national authorities are working on the implementation rules, it is crucial that the will of the legislator be respected, in order to guarantee that we take full advantage of the potential of complex substances. We need a paradigm shift from a pharmacological approach (that will remain valid for single molecules) to a physiological approach (to be applied to complex substances).

In this context, the European Union can play a leading role worldwide, by driving research on natural substances for health. Research is a key driver to ensure growth and competitiveness of the sector in Europe and around the world.

Is that the reason why Aboca invests huge resources in research and innovation?

Exactly. For the past 40 years, we have been working to develop platforms capable of describing the emerging properties of complex natural substances within an evidence-based medicine context. Until a few years ago, the scientific state-of-the-art had strong limitations. Now, instead, with the advent of big data, systems biology and systems medicine it is possible to study the interactions between complex natural substances and the human body as a whole.

In the context of omic sciences, we use advanced technologies that allow us to test the safety, efficacy and mechanism of action of our products. We invest more than €10m a year in research and innovation and we have more than 140 highly specialised employees working in this area. We see a huge opportunity for Europe to become a leader in this sector and we believe that the time has come for the EU to invest in the development of innovative therapeutic products, following this approach.

You are a company that innovates through a model of sustainable development. What does sustainability mean to Aboca and how do you combine it with the creation of value?

The European Green Deal could be a great opportunity for us in all respects. From a general point of view, sustainability means ensuring that natural resources are available for future generations. At Aboca, we have always respected this principle throughout our vertical product cycle, creating value at every stage of the process.

The European Green Deal brings a different meaning to the word “value”. Value, not only in terms of profit, but also in terms of the social and environmental impact of our work. As such, everything we do today as a company keeps the ‘common good’ in mind.

We are a recognised Benefit Corporation and a certified B-Corp, that is to say, an organisation committed to achieving public benefits in addition to profit. However, the European Green Deal could be even more important with respect to the European healthcare system and public health: here sustainability means providing therapeutic solutions that respect both the human body and the environment.

In this regard, natural substances and the new category of Medical Devices Made of Substances are a crucial element. The new Regulation will allow people to benefit from these substances developed using an evidence-based approach, thus allowing the development of a new ecological approach to health, where systems biology and systems medicine will play a key role.

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