Times Online - Bushmans Secret
December 10, 2003
The Bushmen's secret that could knock the stuffing out of Christmas
By Ingrid Mansell
A BIOTECHNOLOGY company is threatening to use an ancient African
Bushmen remedy to end an age-old Christmas tradition overeating.
Phytopharm, whose usual business is to derive drugs from plants,
said that it was in advanced talks with four leading food companies
to develop an appetite-supressing snack. The Cambridge company hopes
the result will be food that can help dieters to lose weight.
The snack would be based on a rare cactus known as Hoodia, which
is found in the Kalahari desert in southern Africa. For centuries
the San people who live there have used the plant as an appetite
The concept of a weight-loss snack-bar divided analyts in the City
into two camps: those who viewed it as brilliant and those who thought
it was a bit batty.
Richard Dixey, Phytopharm’s chief executive, said: The Hoodia cactus
is the first appetite supressant ever discovered, so of course there
are no appetite suppressing confectionary bars out there on the
market yet. But that doesn’t make it a bizarre concept.
Although a snack containing Hoodia extracts could be sold to dieters
to help prevent them from over-eating, Dr Dixey insisted that the
extract would never be sold over the counter as an additive that
could be sprinkled over, say, the Christmas turkey.
We could never sell it safely without adding calories, otherwise
the potential for abuse by anorexics is too great, Dr Dixey said.
It would always have to be sold as part of a nutrient replacement
However, Phytopharm could potentially sell a drug containing the
Hoodia cactus to obese people if it were prescribed by a doctor.
That was the company’s original plan for the extract, but Phytopharm
has been forced to consider other options since Pfizer, the world’s
biggest pharmaceutical group, decided earlier this year not to develop
the plant into an anti-obesity pill. That news wiped a third off
Phytopharm’s market value, even though Dr Dixey insisted that he
would develop the plant into a drug with another big pharmaceutical
Phytopharm has stepped up cultivation of the Hoodia in advance
of what it hopes will be a breakthrough supply deal, with the likes
of Nestlé or Kellogg’s, to develop the appetite-suppressing snack.
Dr Dixey said that the company was growing hundreds of thousands
of the plants and had collected 10 million seeds.
Unfortunately, for the greedy and gluttonous among us, nothing
will save us from overindulging this Christmas, or even the next.
Dr Dixey said that the appetite-suppressing snack was still at least
three years away from being available on the market.
News of Phytopharm’s plans for Hoodia come a week after GlaxoSmithKline,
the UK’s biggest pharmaceuticals company, boasted that it had a
potential chemical Atkins diet in its pipeline.
Tachi Yamada, GSK’s chairman of research and development, claimed
that the experimental drug could enable dieters to eat however much
sugar and carbohydrate they wanted, but still lose the same amount
of weight as they would on the Atkins diet.
Mr Yamada said that the experimental drug designed to fight type
2 diabetes, could have the same effect by causing users to increase
the quantity of glucose in their urine.
This means that dieters could potentially still eat their favourite
foods, pop a pill after their meal and, as Mr Yamada euphemistically
put it, wait for the glucose in their body to be diminished.