'Elixir of Youth' Sparks Clash of Croatian Scientists

A Slovenian company that makes an antioxidant pill some media have dubbed an "elixir of youth" is threatening to file lawsuits against scientists who have publicly spoken out against the product, calling it insufficiently tested. The face-off has an added bit of complexity: one prominent Croatian scientist is criticizing another who has endorsed the therapy.

The pill at the heart of the dispute, a mixture of four antioxidants—resveratrol, oligomeric proanthocyanidin, lycopene, and EGCG (green tea extract)—called Energiser HPE 40 or ADR, was introduced at a hotel press conference in Zagreb on 20 October by its maker Regiopharma, which already sells food supplements. Present at the media briefing and offering his support was Miroslav Radman, a Croatia-born scientist at the medical faculty of Paris University V, France, known for his work on DNA repair and bacterial cell death. Radman, who is also a co-founder and current head of the life sciences research institute MedILS in Split, Croatia, told local media that his team there had tested Energiser HPE 40 on cells and found it to be a powerful antioxidant. Radman added that he has been taking the pill, and it made him feel more energetic.

Ivan Đikić, a Croatian émigré scientist who is scientific director of Frankfurt Institute for Molecular Life Sciences in Germany, has publicly criticized Regiopharma's product, and Radman for endorsing it. In the days following the press conference, he told Croatian journalists that there were no peer-reviewed published studies nor clinical trials to support the firm's claims that the new product is safe for human use and that it slows aging.

In response to such criticism, Regiopharma on 28 October issued a statement saying that "in case of continued spread of non-truths about the product being a scam and intimidating the public with statements about its potential negative effects, we will be forced to confirm the statements" about the product's efficacy and safety "in court."

Đikić, however, told ScienceInsider, that he isn't backing away from his criticism. "I don't think I said anything that was incorrect and I can't see that they can sue me for what I said, but if that does happen, I will continue to defend scientific facts publicly." He sees the company's lawsuit threat as an attempt to silence critics.

Radman, meanwhile, says Đikić didn't ask for his lab's results or Regiopharma's data before making his claims. MedILS was contracted to carry out testing on the protein oxidation effects of the compound, he told ScienceInsider, adding that an agreement with the company calls for the institute to get about 1% of any revenues from the product. The results of the tests will be presented at the first World Summit on Medicalised Food & Medicalised Nutrition, in Paris, on 1st December, he said. "Calling the case into the court is just the opposite of 'silencing the scientific criticism,' " Radman says. "It's about giving the fair chance to the truth to be established, scientifically, by valid arguments instead of contentious statements in the public media."

Regiopharma officials, meanwhile, say they are defending their product. "We are strongly opposed to everyone who gives value judgements about our product and they don't know anything at all about it," Siniša Bašić, a Regiopharma representative, writes in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. "Such scientists are causing us huge damages with their irresponsible statements and we will be forced to sue them … to make up for the damages."