Telomeres, the nucleotide sequences that protect chromosome ends from degradation, have been linked to aging as they shorten during every cell division. In 2005, the New York-based Telomerase Activation Sciences (TA Sciences) created a dietary supplement they claimed could lengthen shortened telomeres. The pill, named TA-65, brings in $6 million in annual US sales. Now, former TA Sciences Vice President for Global Sales Brian Egan has filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, challenging the supplement’s scientific basis, including the claim that TA-65 can lengthen telomeres. The president of TA Sciences, Noel Patton, denies all allegations.
Egan isn’t the first to be skeptical. “A compound that can lengthen telomeres would be excellent,” Carol Greider, who shared the Nobel Prize for her work on telomeres told Nature, but “we would need to test it rigorously.” Research sponsored by TA Sciences has shown the active ingredient, isolated from the herb Astragalus membranaceus does increase telomere length in mice and humans, but Greider and others have raised questions about the methods used in the research, which was conducted by Telomere Health in Menlo Park, California. If the claims are true, it could be a huge boon to patients dying of bone marrow failure and pulmonary fibrosis, Greider told Nature.
Greider is also suspicious of the fact that TA Sciences sells the pill as nutritional supplement, rather than a drug. As a supplement, the pill's health claims do not have to be evaluated by the FDA, nor do they have to be proven with extensive clinical trials in humans. However, Calvin Harley, president of Telomere Heath stands by the conclusion that TA-65 is a “weak telomerase activator.”
Starting in May 2011, Egan said he was required to take TA-65, in order to help expand TA Science's reach in foreign markets. Soon after, Egan was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In September 2011, he was fired and was allegedly offered a cash settlement to keep his disease under wraps. According to an affidavit filed by Patton, taking the product was not mandatory, and Egan was fired for bad sales.
In March 2012, TA Sciences sued Egan for telling a potential business partner that he had developed the cancer while taking TA-65. TA Sciences say they believe Egan already had the cancer before they hired him in May 2011. Egan filed his class-action lawsuit on 23 July 2012, in the New York State Supreme Court, along with another man who took TA-65.