Mars, the company that made its fortune satisfying chocolate cravings, unveiled plans on Monday to develop medications that use a component of cocoa to help treat diabetes, strokes and vascular disease.

The privately held U.S. company that produces M&Ms and Mars bars said it hoped to make medications based on flavanols — plant chemicals with health benefits found in cocoa, as well as red wine and green tea.

It is now in talks with several large pharmaceutical companies for a licensing or joint venture agreement to develop medicinal products based on its research.

After 15 years and more than $10 million worth of studies, Mars said it had developed hundreds of compounds that copy the aspirin-like blood-thinning properties of cocoa flavanols.

“We know we have an interesting and powerful property that would help people,” said Mars Chief Science Officer Dr Harold Schmitz.

“In order for these to be developed we need a big partner…It takes not tens of million but hundreds of millions of dollars to bring a product to market.”

He declined to say which companies Mars is in talks with.

“The mounting scientific evidence is extraordinary,” said Dr Norm Hollenberg, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, which has collaborated with Mars on cocoa research.

“This is a scientific breakthrough that could well lead to a medical breakthrough.”

Hollenberg was chairing a two-day seminar with 20 science and medical experts in Switzerland to discuss the newest research on cocoa’s potential health benefits.

By Eleanor Wason

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