In terms of medical achievements, this has got to be the big one – an all-in-one treatment that works against obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Astoundingly, a drug capable of doing just that could be available within three years. And it gets better. The new treatment could be a godsend for couch potatoes, allowing them to eat as much as they like without putting on a pound. They could even receive all the benefits of exercise without leaving the sofa.
The excitement surrounds a family of drugs based on resveratrol, the ‘miracle ingredient’ in red wine credited with inhibiting the development of cancer and heart disease. The drugs would activate a gene called SIRT1 that is key to longevity and energy, and their potency would give them the equivalent health benefits of 8,000 bottles of wine. Mice given one of the drugs, known as SRT1720, did not gain an ounce of weight despite being fed fatty foods, and blood tests suggested they were protected against diabetes. They also showed improved stamina. Now a follow-up study, led by the U.S. government’s health research arm, has confirmed the drug’s promise.
This time, giving it to ‘middle-aged’ mice allowed them to escape many of the dangers of a bad diet, with those eating fatty foods living almost as long as mice fed normally. At high doses, the drug extended the life of the junk food group by as much as 44 per cent. In addition, it stopped fat from clogging up their livers and, once again, appeared to protect against diabetes.
The journal Scientific Reports also states that the treated animals were more active. The drugs are being developed by Sirtris, a biotech firm bought by pharmaceutical powerhouse GlaxoSmithKline three years ago.
GSK is no longer pursuing SRT1720, but three similar – and potentially even better – drugs are already being tested on people. The first of these could be widely available within three years. Researcher Rafael de Cabo, of the National Institutes of Health in Baltimore, said the drugs offer the promise of a healthy old age.
‘To me, the most tantalising thing about the findings are the health benefits,’ he said. ‘I don’t care much about living five years longer as long as I live what I am supposed to live completely healthy.’It is not known who the drugs will be aimed at but, initially, they are likely to be reserved for treating and preventing disease in the severely overweight.