Memory-boosting supplement Prevagen is a scam, regulators say
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), along with the New York State Attorney General's office, is angling to give a Wisconsin-based supplement company a legal battle it won't soon forget. Their case is in the name of protecting vulnerable, often elderly people from a product they say is fraudulently being sold as a memory booster.
On Monday, the FTC announced it had filed a federal complaint against the Quincy Bioscience Holding Company and its subsidiaries for having deceptively marketed their supplement Prevagen to the public. The complaint, filed in New York's Southern District, alleges that none of the fantastic claims made about Prevagen hold up to any scientific scrutiny. And the few bits of evidence showing that Prevagen does anything, the complaint further claims, have been manipulated, misrepresented, or just plain made-up.
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"The marketers of Prevagen preyed on the fears of older consumers experiencing age-related memory loss," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. "But one critical thing these marketers forgot is that their claims need to be backed up by real scientific evidence."
Prevagen's active ingredient is an enzyme that binds to calcium called apoaequorin, originally discovered in a type of glowing jellyfish. In jellyfish, apoaequorin is thought to give them a bluish hue, but in people, its makers have claimed, it helps the brain hold on to other proteins responsible for maintaining the sort of cognitive function that often declines as we age. But even if apoaequorin could theoretically do that, the FTC has said, Prevagen certainly doesn't seem to.
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The crux of the FTC's argument comes from the one randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial that Quincy Bioscience conducted in 2010. The trial's findings showed that while Prevagen seemed to improve users' brain health, as measured by various cognitive tests, over a period of 90 days, it didn't do any better than a typical sugar pill. And by the 90-day mark, it actually appeared to have slightly worse results than the placebo. The study's researchers also used a tactic that's often seen as shifty in the research world: Sifting through their raw data in a bunch of different ways in order to find at least one result that showed a clear advantage for Prevagen.
The numerous advertisements and infomercials promoting Prevagen, however, crop these unflattering details out, a strategy tantamount to fraud, the FTC is prepared to argue in court.
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The company has predictably rebuffed these allegation, responding in a statement that the case "is another example of government overreach and regulators extinguishing innovation by imposing arbitrary new rules on small businesses like ours."
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According to the FTC's complaint, sales of Prevagen have totaled $165 million since it was first released in 2007, and the price of a bottle can range from around $25 to $70, depending on the strength. The FTC and Attorney General's Office are hoping to recoup refunds for any New Yorkers who bought Prevagen.
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