Yep, folks, we’re doing it wrong. Making these small molecules, these biologics, all of it – we worry about pharmacokinetics and exposure, about side effects and potency and selectivity, and all the time we could be dosing folks with magic water. That’s what you’d get out of reading the literature on “release-active drugs”, anyway, which literature unfortunately exists. There have been several recent retractions, but those are just the tip of an iceberg of solid crap.
I had not heard of this particular breakthrough (update: more on this junk here), for which we have to thank a Russian company called “OOONPF Materia Medica Holding” (MMH). But it’s barely disguised homeopathy, with just enough of a tarp thrown over it to slip it past less-than-perfectly-attentive referees. These “release-active” thingies are “activated forms of ultra-low doses of antibodies“, and they’re activated by being diluted and shaken, don’t you know. And as for that ultra-low dose, how does a dilution of one part in ten to the 24th sound? Too concentrated? That’s why some of them go down to one part in ten to the 1991th power, an insane level of dilution that can only be dimly imagined.
Let us do a back-of-the envelope calculation. Our galaxy’s radius is roughly 52,850 light years. A spherical container the size of our galaxy, then, has a volume of 1.97 x 1014 light years, or 1.67 x 1062 cubic meters. We will fill this vessel with distilled water, and never mind where we get all 1.67 x 1065 liters needed to do so. Since we’ve already assumed a container with the radius of the galaxy, we shall further assume that it’s somehow at room temperature, and Avogadro-ing it out gives us about 5.6 x 1094 molecules of water therein. (Note, interestingly, that this is well over the estimate of the number of atoms (much less molecules) in the observable universe, because the observable universe consists overwhelmingly of empty space rather than matter at the density of liquid water!) Thus when we introduce one single solitary antibody molecule to our galaxy-flask and mix thoroughly, we have a dilution on the order of one part in ten to the ninety-fifth or so, rounding off.
But that’s nowhere near the concentration of many homeopathic preparations. You can, if you want to waste a bit of money, buy Oscillococcinum from a pharmacy; there’s a French company that is happy if you do. That one is duck liver diluted to one part in ten to the four hundredth power, a stupefyingly low concentration that homeopaths are convinced makes this a very potent and active preparation indeed.
So much for homeopathy. The problem is, MMH and its founder, one Oleg Epstein, have been throwing papers all over the place on this crap, as detailed here (coverage here at Forbes). A PubMed search for Epstein and his co-authors turns up plenty of un-retracted homeopathy published in indexed journals (that’s just from the first page of results), and (sadly) a number of trials at Clinicaltrials.gov. This is all whitewash. These people are selling distilled water and inert ingredients, giving it all a thin veneer of respectability by piggybacking on the medical establishment, and contaminating the scientific literature with noise and nonsense. Some of these papers have been retracted, often thanks to the work of Alexander Pachin and his colleagues (as detailed in the link up in the first paragraph), but there are plenty more still out there, and no doubt more on the way. You’d think that there’s enough bull out there in the world without deliberately adding to the piles, but there’s money to be made. Sigh.