The report in today’s Daily Express is a perfect example of irresponsible tabloid journalism – long on hype and woefully inadequate in terms of factual content. A scientifically innocent individual reading this article would be entitled to believe that a ‘miracle’ drug which will halve body fat in just a few weeks is almost with us and that within a matter of years the obesity epidemic will be little more than a historical artifact. It is important to understand why this is simple-minded nonsense.
Firstly, the study was not carried out in humans, it was done in mice. As any reasonably rational person might conclude, making claims about what might work in humans on the basis of what worked in rodents is always risky. This is especially true when it concerns a condition as complex as obesity. Most drugs in development which look promising in rodents, never even get to clinical studies in humans. It is certainly true that the current finding are of considerable interest, but we are years away from having real evidence that such a drug will work in humans. It may – and it equally may not. In the last analysis, it is not tabloid articles that make successful treatments, but the painstaking work of teams of scientists over many years.
It’s also worth remembering that the entire landscape of obesity treatment over the last two decades is littered with the corpses of failed “wonder drugs”, each one of which was – or so we were told - going to revolutionize the treatment of obesity overnight. The latest of these was Rimonobant (Acomplia) which was widely promoted as a landmark in the treatment of obesity, but was later withdrawn because it was found to produce suicidal tendencies in some patients.
In making claims about the efficacy of any form of treatment, the only thing that matters is the quality of the scientific evidence. Miracles will not do.
Dr David Ashton MD PhD