Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: CEO says sugar kills, and he's working on a solution
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to limit the size of soft drinks to 16 ounces at New York restaurants, theaters and street carts might have seemed like another overreach from a zealot. If a New Yorker wants to slurp a 32-ounce vat of Mountain Dew, who is Bloomberg to get in his way?
While a court decision to strike down the law may have been applauded in many quarters, David Platt saw it as an early episode in a battle against obesity, one he compares to the decades-long campaign to fight the effects of cigarette smoke.
"It's very simple. Sugar kills. End of story," says Platt, the CEO of Boston Therapeutics. He expects the connection between sugar, obesity and diabetes will ultimately lead to a ban on those Big Gulps.
The early-stage pharmaceutical company is focused on developing and commercializing complex carbohydrate-based drugs to treat diabetes and inflammatory diseases. And the need for the drugs the company is creating has been driven largely by the rise of the food industry and the sugar-laden products it manufactures.
"The industry is based on sugar for consumption. Any food that adds sugar to make it tastier, the beverage companies putting in fructose - it's absolute poison," Platt says. "Fructose is worse than sucrose. It's addictive, the same as nicotine."
A press release about Boston Therapeutics rode the coattails of the New York Supreme Court decision striking down Bloomberg's edict and was widely posted on news sites. But Platt, a quietly intense speaker with a dry sense of humor, is deadly serious about the subject.
"By definition, McDonald's and all those companies that are selling sugary drinks are committing a crime, by my standard," says Platt, a 59-year-old Israeli immigrant who founded two other pharmaceutical companies. "They're poisoning people. They don't know that - because the link between sugar and heart disease is clear in the research - but it's not in the law."
On Wednesday, Boston Therapeutics, which employs five people at its 1750 Elm St. headquarters, announced it will focus its pipeline on commercializing two drugs, PAZ320 and IPOXYN.
PAZ320 is a chewable complex carbohydrate-based compound designed to mimic insulin and reduce the elevation of post-meal blood sugar. The proprietary polysaccharide is designed to be taken before meals and works in the gastrointestinal tract to block the action of carbohydrate-hydrolyzing enzymes that break down carbohydrates into glucose and release it into the bloodstream.
PAZ320 will soon be tested in a Phase III clinical trial with about 300 patients after postive results last year in a Phase II study that tested the safety and efficacy of the drug of patients with type 2 diabetes at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. Patients with type 2 diabetes responded with a 40 percent reduction of post-prandial glucose, or post-meal blood sugar, in their blood compared to a baseline measure. The results are scheduled to be published in the July/August issue of Endocrine Practice, a peer-reviewed medical journal.
"The product is fully developed," says Ken Tassey, the company's president. "There is no more lab work that needs to be done for development of PAZ320."
Boston Therapeutics previously developed a nonpharmaceutical grade supplement marketed as Sugar Down, a chewable tablet that also was designed to moderate blood glucose levels after carbohydrate-rich meals. But the company's success in developing PAZ320 makes Sugar Down "almost irrelevant" to the company's future, Platt says.
"We can make one molecule that blocks all of the enyzmes that participate in the digestion of sugar in the intestine, and that's the molecule that we gave the code name PAZ320," Platt says, who is confident of the drug's eventual success.
"We believe that what we have in our hands is an absolute blockbuster," Platt says. "It could take time for people to understand the magnitude of the data that we have ... . Medicine is very conservative, and the clinical data will talk for themselves."
IPOXYN, the company's other focus, is a glycoprotein anti-necrosis drug developed to help improve blood flow to lower limbs. Lower limb ischemia, associated with diabetes, often leads to amputations. It occurs when arteries cannot carry enough oxygen.
Molecules of IPOXYN, which Plant says is the only anti-necrosis drug currently under development, are 5,000 times smaller than red blood cells and can penetrate cells that otherwise would not be able to receive oxgen, says Platt, who has spent his career studying carbohydrate chemistry.
With two drugs in the pipeline, the company's biggest challenge is to continue to attract funding to pay for clinical trials, which can cost millions. (The public company trades over the counter as BTHE.)
"In medicine, it's all about credibility, raising money, increasing funding, getting more people to work for the company," Platt says.
"The right people," Tassey adds.
Note to applicants: You probably want to leave that Big Gulp in your car before heading in for the interview.
Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.