PharmaLinks, a drug discovery initiative between the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde in Scotland, has won a £1 million (€1.56m) research contract to develop an anti-obesity drug discovered at Strathclyde's Institute for Drug Research.
The award comes from Korean company Hyundai Pharmaceutical which makes and distributes pharmaceutical products and health food drinks.
Researchers have found that a component from an extract of a traditionally used medicinal plant, Galega officinalis, may cause sustained weight loss, without reduction in food intake and without toxic side effects. If successful, the project could lead to new medicines for the treatment of obesity.
Obesity is often a chronic condition and results in an increased incidence of diseases such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, colonic cancer and arthritis. A UK Public Accounts Committee report showed that obesity is linked to 30,000 deaths annually in the UK, shortening life by an average of nine years. The National Health Service costs associated with obesity are calculated to be about £0.5 billion each year.
Welcoming the award, Professor Alan Harvey, director of PharmaLinks at the University of Strathclyde, said: "With Hyundai's support, we will use genomic techniques to understand our compound's unique mechanism of action. PharmaLinks researchers in both universities will also work closely with local clinical groups studying the genetic basis of obesity." He explained that the plant has originally been suggested as a potential anti-diabetic plant, and although the researchers did not find much effect on blood sugar, there was a positive impact on weight gain.
Principal investigator, Dr Brian Furman of the University of Strathclyde, added: "I am delighted with the news of this funding which will enable us to take another important step forward in developing this molecule into a potential medicine for the treatment of obesity, which is a major health problem. We need first of all to understand how this drug works and secondly to produce more powerful derivatives which will be safe and effective when taken by obese people."
Professor Michael Lean, Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Glasgow and Consultant Physician at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, is on the project's advisory board. Setting the research in context, he said: "Understanding of obesity and weight management is evolving rapidly, to respond to the emerging epidemic of obesity and all its secondary conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, as well as the plethora of aggravated symptoms such as tiredness, depression, breathlessness and pains in joints."
"Medical treatment has changed from recognising that quite modest, achievable weight loss of 5 to 10kg can bring major medical benefits, and the emphasis has shifted towards effective long-term prevention of weight gain. A lot can be achieved by diet and lifestyle advice, but many people cannot sustain lifelong changes or lack access to help."
He continued:"Optimal medical care, through the NHS, needs to include appropriate drug treatment and even surgery for some cases. Existing drugs are safe and effective, but not in every case. There is a worldwide need for new, safe, drugs to be used at earlier stages to help manage obesity and prevent the need for large numbers of drugs for secondary conditions, as well as a lot of suffering."