I came across a news headline: “Chewing gum drug could help curb obesity.” I couldn’t help but be intrigued, so I decided to dig a little deeper. The news release, as it turns out, is based upon the work of professor Steven R. Blum, a British researcher who is a consultant for many major pharmaceutical companies (Merck, GSK, Roche, Novartis, Pfizer, Astra-Zeneca, J&J and others). In addition to owning stock in Thiakis, a new biopharmaceutical company created in 2004, the professor has just received 19 million dollars in VC money (and a 5 million dollar grant from the Wellcome Trust) to further investigate the use of pancreatic polypeptide – an appetite suppressing hormone – for the treatment of obesity.
The amount of money flowing into Blum’s research tells me one thing for sure – Big Pharma is placing a bet on gut hormones as the next big breakthrough in obesity management. Whether this is money well spent, I’m not sure. Leptin (an appetite suppressant hormone produced by fat cells) proved to be a big disappointment to researchers, as obese individuals proved to be resistant to leptin. Pancreatic polypeptide also has a flaw that may prove to limit its use: it is rapidly broken down in the blood stream by enzymes, causing its appetite suppressing effects to be quite transitory.
Evidence to date is limited in humans (as far as I can tell previous studies have mostly focused on mice – I’ll let my GI colleagues correct me here) and Bloom cites a study in which 17 obese adults ate ~15 -25% less at a buffet after being injected with pancreatic polypeptide (compared to 18 others who were injected with saline).
I’d like to believe that gut hormones will lead to an appetite suppressing pill that will reverse or slow our obesity epidemic. But I remain skeptical at this point. What do other people think about this?
This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.