Russian homeopathy, hiding in plain sight

It turns out that Russia has its very own brand of bogus medicine:"release-active drugs," or RADs. Dozens of scientific articles have been published claiming that these substances can be used to treat or cure a remarkably broad range of illnesses, including:
"... influenza, hemorrhagic fever, meningococcal meningitis, herpes, HIV, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, sleep disorders, obesity, chronic inflammatory joint diseases, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ..., alcoholism, allergies, and many other health problems." 
If this sounds too good to be true, that's because it is.

Thanks to a new report published in the journal BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine (provocatively titled "Drug discovery today: no molecules required") we now know that RADs aren't drugs at all, because they don't actually contain anything. As the new study reveals,
"The problem [with RADs] is that typical dilutions of the active ingredient are so high (from 1:1024 to 1:101991) that no molecules of the initial antibodies should be present in the ‘drug’ itself."
In other words, RADs are simply homeopathy by another name. As I've written many times before, homeopathy is one of the most patently absurd forms of pseudoscience, and although it's been debunked countless times, it remains popular due in part to commercial interests that profit handsomely from selling ineffective but expensive sugar pills.

RADs are produced by a single Russian company, with the odd name "OOO NPF Materia Medica Holding." The papers promoting the benefits of RADs are authored by a variety of Russian authors, but they are nearly all co-authored by or associated with one person, Oleg Epstein, who is also the company's founder.

Epstein and his Russian compatriots have been very clever about disguising the fact that their "release-active drugs" aren't drugs at all. Their papers are full of scientific jargon, which has no doubt helped them get their work past reviewers who (as every scientist who has published papers knows) can sometimes be a bit lazy.

They've also taken advantage of–one might say abused–the U.S. clinical trials system,, by registering 22 studies of RADs there, such as this one.

The authors of the BMJ report (Alexander Panchin, Nikita Khromov-Borisov, and Evgenia Dueva, all Russian, though Dueva is based in Canada) are unsparingly blunt in revealing how Epstein has manipulated the scientific system in Russia to gain approval (and lucrative sales) of his so-called drugs. For example, Epstein has published 90 papers on RADs in a single journal, including 48 in a special issue that he edited himself.

Panchin and colleagues also took a closer look at 6 papers about RADs that were published in English-language journals, all co-authored by Epstein. They report that
"the articles contained misleading descriptions of active substance concentrations, severe flaws in study design and methodology, as well as concealed conflict of interests.... the authors did not mention that MMH manufactures and sells RADs and holds the corresponding patents. Epstein was not mentioned as the founder and CEO of MMH."
They contacted all of these journals, and only one journal, PLoS ONE, went so far as to retract the bogus science on RADs. Kudos to PLoS ONE for doing so. The other journals, some of them published by reputable scientific publishers including Elsevier, Wiley, and Springer, either didn't respond or refused to take action.

Fortunately for consumers, RADs haven't yet spread into U.S. and European markets, although their manufacturers are trying. In a recent letter published in a the Journal of Medical Virology, Epstein and his co-authors write that
"Currently we are in the process of approving evaluation requirements for our products, taking into account their peculiarities and allowing their potential authorization in the USA and Europe."
Buyer beware. The Russian quacks are coming.

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