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OSR#1: Industrial chemical or autism treatment?

Posted Jan 25 2010 9:13pm

The Chicago Tribune has added another chapter to their ongoing series posing difficult questions to the autism alternative medical community. OSR#1: Industrial chemical or autism treatment?, by Trine Tsouderos demonstrates the very low standards the alt-med community is willing to accept, at least when it comes to “supplements”.

OSR#1 is being marketed as a supplement by Boyd Haley, retired professor of Chemistry from the University of Kentucky. The chemical used is a powerful chelator, which will come as no surprise to those familiar with Dr. Haley’s history as a proponent of the mercury causation theory in autism. However, “chelation” is not mentioned in the marketing for OSR#1.

Trine Tsudorous has a style I like. She asks very tough questions, points the spotlight on questionable practices and backs up her stories with quotes from experts in the field.

One of the biggest questions raised about OSR#1 is whether the appropriate safety testing has been performed. The marketing doesn’t mention that the chemical used is a chelator.

The company that makes the supplement, CTI Science, describes it as an antioxidant. But pharmacologist Dr. Arthur Grollman, director of the Laboratory for Chemical Biology at State University of New York at Stony Brook, said it is obvious from the product’s chemical structure that it is also a “powerful chelator,” a compound that binds to heavy metals such as mercury.

Note that CTI Science used to be called “Chelator Technologies, inc”. The chemical used in OSR#1 was invented (and patented) by a colleague of Dr. Haley’s at the University of Kentucky. According to the Tribune story, the original purpose of the chemical was to chelate “heavy metals from soil and acid mine drainage.”

Why would someone avoid calling a chelator a chelator? Especially in the autism alternative-medical community which has been led to believe that chelation is a valid treatment for autism? It appears that chelators are drugs and, as such, are subject to much more stringent and costly safety and efficacy testing than supplements. Dr. Haley is quoted as describing the chemical as “a food”. To my knowledge, this chemical is not found in nature and is not an extract from some food but, rather, a synthetic compound.

From the FAQ for OSR#1

Is OSR#1® a natural compound?

OSR#1® is a combination of two natural compounds that are non-toxic.

Perhaps I missed something—but either this is dodging the question or this is an admission that OSR is not a natural compound. However, either way the wording is carefully chosen.

Ms. Tsuderous brought in an expert on antioxidants for her story as w ell.

“I would worry a lot about giving anything to a small child that hasn’t been scrutinized for both safety and efficacy by the FDA,” said antioxidant expert Dr. L. Jackson Roberts, a pharmacologist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Which brings up the question, has the safety and efficacy been scrutinized by the FDA? From the Tribune story:

In January 2008 Haley changed the name of his company from Chelator Technologies Inc. to CTI Science Inc. Less than a month later, he notified the FDA he would be introducing the compound as a new dietary ingredient.

Federal law allows manufacturers of dietary supplements to market them without the rigorous testing for safety and efficacy the FDA requires of drugs. Developing, testing and bringing a drug to market can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, according to some studies.

But the law does require makers of supplements containing new dietary ingredients—such as OSR#1—to establish that the product can be expected to be safe.

In June 2008, an FDA senior toxicologist sent a letter to Haley that questioned on what basis the product could be expected to be safe and could be considered a dietary ingredient. According to FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey, Haley has not responded to the request for more information.

DeLancey declined to discuss OSR#1 specifically, but she said the government prohibits companies from selling a product until the safety requirement is satisfied. Penalties can include warning letters, seizure of products or criminal prosecution. DeLancey said she did not know of any actions taken against Haley or his company.

Haley did not respond to questions from the Tribune about the FDA.

Well, Dr. Haley hasn’t responded to the request for more information. He could face…a warning letter. Sorry, that just summons up images of Michael Palin doing the “Spanish Inquisition” sketch from Monty Python. So far the FDA seems to have let this case slide for over a year, and should they focus attention on OSR#1 and find fault they might issue a “warning letter”? Has the FDA no teeth?

Some of the questions that arise in my mind reading this article are:

1) Is OSR#1 a chelator?
2) is it being marketed as an antioxidant/supplement to avoid the more costly and time consuming process of approving a drug?
3) is the level of safety testing OSR#1 has undergone appropriate?
4) are the customers for OSR#1 buying it as a chelator or as an antioxidant/supplement?

Let’s take a look at these questions

First, is OSR#1 a chelator? It appears the answer is a fairly clear Yes:

The company that makes the supplement, CTI Science, describes it as an antioxidant. But pharmacologist Dr. Arthur Grollman, director of the Laboratory for Chemical Biology at State University of New York at Stony Brook, said it is obvious from the product’s chemical structure that it is also a “powerful chelator,” a compound that binds to heavy metals such as mercury.

Second, is OSR#1 being marketed as an antioxidant/supplement to avoid the more costly and time consuming process of approving a drug? I don’t think we can tell the motivations of Dr. Haley or his company. However, the Tribune story seems to ask the same question:

In January 2008 Haley changed the name of his company from Chelator Technologies Inc. to CTI Science Inc. Less than a month later, he notified the FDA he would be introducing the compound as a new dietary ingredient.

Federal law allows manufacturers of dietary supplements to market them without the rigorous testing for safety and efficacy the FDA requires of drugs. Developing, testing and bringing a drug to market can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, according to some studies.

Third, is the level of safety testing appropriate? Again, the Tribune brings up the question of whether the FDA has had all its questions answered, even for the lower standard of a supplement.

While not directly on point as to the safety testing, two quotes from the Tribune story stick in my mind when it comes to safety/efficacy:

Ellen Silbergeld, an expert in environmental health and a researcher funded by the National Institutes of Health studying mercury and autism at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, said she found the sale of the chemical as a supplement for children “appalling.”

and

“Treatment of autistic children with a potent chelator is potentially hazardous and offers no benefits,” Grollman said.

Lastly, I posed the question of whether the customers for OSR#1 are buying it as an “antioxidant/supplement” or as a chelator. Again, it is very difficult to ascribe motivations. However, I will point out that in over 400 comments to the Tribune piece, few (if any!) discuss OSR as an antioxidant. Instead there is much discussion of mercury. Rather odd discussion for something that is marketed “only as an antioxidant supplement”.

If you want more details than in the Tribune article, OSR was discussed by Kathleen Seidel of Neurodiversity.com in three articles:

and

Kathleen Seidel is the blogger with the most thoroughly researched articles I have ever seen.

One of the complaints about Ms. Tsudorous’ previous articles, posed by those promoting alternative medical treatments for autism, is that she didn’t seek out “balance”. First, Ms. Tsudorous did enough hard legwork to support her stories without having to rely on pitting parent/advocate opinion on an equal footing with medical experts. Second, Ms. Tsudorous attempted to get comments from a prominent parent/advocate who had publicly touted OSR#1. The parent declined to let her opinion be heard.

The bottom line for this autism parent? OSR#1 doesn’t come close to being something I would give to my child, no matter whether you call it a supplement or a drug. First I side with Dr. Grollman (“Treatment of autistic children with a potent chelator is potentially hazardous and offers no benefits”). Second, what I have seen of the safety studies doesn’t meet my standards. That’s putting it lightly.

edit to add: the Tribune has posted some of the communications between the FDA and the company selling OSR#1:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/acrobat/2010-01/51678955.pdf

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