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    ‘Fat’ pill: is it the answer to obesity?
    20 October 2003

    Australian scientists are on the verge of discovering the world’s first ‘fat’ pill, which they’re hoping will improve our waistlines and overall wellbeing. While the manufacturers say it could be more than four years until it’s available, they’re calling for volunteers to take part in an extensive trial in an effort to determine its safety and effectiveness. ACA reports.

    Known as the Metabolic Fat Pill, or AOD9604, this is not a synthetic appetite suppressant or gastro-inhibitor. Instead, scientists have isolated a naturally occurring molecule that blocks and metabolically burns fat. Already proven to work in obese laboratory animals, the manufacturers, Metabolic Pharmaceuticals, are now focusing on its fourth human trial and they’re looking for volunteers to be ‘fat’ pill test pilots.

    According to Dr Gary Wittert, the trial’s principal independent investigator, volunteers need to meet certain criteria.

    “We’re looking for people between the ages of 30 and 65,” he says. “They need to be significantly overweight – that is to have a body mass index of greater than 35.”

    People like 30-year-old Trent Ball, a 155 kilo Melbourne taxi driver, who reckons he’s outgrown his unhealthy relationship with food and is ready for a change.

    “My biggest problem is not what I eat, it’s how much I eat,” he says.

    Being overweight, however, is not the only prerequisite, says Dr Wittert.

    “People need to be otherwise healthy; they must not have other diseases - so high blood pressure, diabetes or anything – and they must not be taking any medication,” he says.

    Once recruited, 300 Australian volunteers fitting that description will come under Dr Gary Witterts’ watchful eye. He’ll coordinate simultaneous tests in five different states over the next three months.

    For volunteer and 53-year-old Adelaide mum Sue Tonkin, she’s hoping for a miracle.

    “I’ve tried Weight Watchers, I’ve tried the carbohydrate diet – that scared me a bit all the fat in that one,” she says. “I’ve tried everything, I suppose a bit of willpower would help but it hasn’t helped so far.”

    But Trent is taking a more realistic approach.

    “[For] a lot of people who are obese or overweight, it’s about getting your lifestyle right, getting your head right and getting your attitude right,” he says.

    And that’s exactly the sort of attitude the manufacturers are looking for because not all the volunteers will be asked to swallow the real thing.

    “There is a one in six chance of being on the drug if you’re in the trial,” says Dr Wittert. “One sixth of people will be taking a placebo tablet.”

    If all goes according to plan, the manufacturers’ claim those actually taking the pill will lose half a kilo a week and sustain that weight loss for the entire three-month trial. Sue’s desperate to lose 30 kilos and Trent’s target is 50 kilos, so both are champing at the bit to get started.

    According to Metabolic Pharmaceuticals Dr Chris Belyea, there currently appears to be no concerns in relation to side-effects compared to the existing drugs, which he says all have side-effects that limit their dose.

    Should this revolutionary pill meet expectations, the manufacturers are eager to point out that it will not be an over-the-counter quick fix.

    “Absolutely not, we’re looking at this as a prescription drug that will be controlled by the doctor,” he says. “I think it’s wrong to look at it as a fix-all-eat-all-you-like pill. The approach we’re taking is to improve the overall health of the population.”

    With the weight of the world resting on the little Australian pill, there’ll be a lot of fingers crossed around the country during the trial. Then, if the pill proves safe and effective, it’ll be another three years before it’s on the shelves. And, that’s the one thing wrong with instant gratification – it never happens fast enough.

    “I want to be thinner and I want it now!” says Sue.

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