'Miracle' cure for fatness has slim chance of success

A MIRACLE treatment for fat mice, trumpeted last week as a possible cure for human obesity and provoking a multi-million-dollar share price surge, has one unpublicised drawback - preliminary research indicates it will fail to work on humans.

Three separate groups of scientists have shown that mice suffering from inherited obesity dramatically lost weight when injected with a genetically engineered hormone.

But humans do not always react in the same way as mice. Other work, which was not mentioned in the mountain of scientific reports and press releases published last week by companies financing the research, indicates that obese people already have higher-than-average levels of the same hormone. Daily injections, therefore, will not work on them in the dramatic way they worked on mice, whose bodies lack the hormone.

Some obesity scientists believe drug companies have hyped the latest research on obese mice, published on Friday in the journal Science, by suggesting that clinical trials of the hormone may begin as early as next year, with a clinical product on the market by the end of the decade.

The scientist at the centre of the latest research is Jeffrey Friedman of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Rockefeller University in New York. Dr Friedman unravelled the chemical nature of the ''ob'' gene for obesity in mice last December and Rockefeller has since established a $20m (pounds 12.5m) deal with Amgen, a Californian biotechnology company, to develop the research into a human drug.

When news of last week's research was leaked prematurely to Wall Street by financial analysts, shares in Amgen rose 10 per cent.

According to scientists close to the Institute, Dr Friedman has given private seminars showing that the ob protein, a hormone, can be detected in all humans. But obese people probably have higher levels compared to lean people. Nobody knows why the hormone, so effective in helping mice lose weight, seems to be associated with the opposite effect in humans. One very speculative possibility is that in the bodies of some obese people, it does not work properly.

When questioned about this work, however, Dr Friedman refused to give details. ''Those experiments are under way,"he said, "and I don't want to give you any information until we know it is correct, so the results are not final yet. The data are too preliminary for me to talk about.''

Dr Friedman and his researchers did, however, release details in their research paper, showing that they were able to measure the ob protein in six members of his own lab. He said these volunteers were all lean and therefore could not be used to compare obese people with slim people.

Developing a drug to ''cure'' obesity has important financial ramifications. In Britain alone an estimated pounds 4bn a year is spent on weight-reducing products and on treating illnesses, such as heart disease, indirectly linked to obesity. Americans spend about $40bn a year on efforts to trim the fat.

Despite the intense interest in the ob gene, however, less than a quarter of the cases of serious obesity are the result of genetic defects. Medical researchers stressed that the biggest culprits behind the doubling of obesity cases in the past 10 years are poor diet and lack of exercise.

Even Dr Friedman said research on obesity in mice could not replace current advice to overweight people: ''Diet and exercise are the mainstays of current treatment, and I would imagine even if this thing were to develop into a useful clinical tool in some circumstances, it would be a supplement to that, and not a replacement.''

See Business section, page 2

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...