Perth entrepreneur Kevin Parry is back in business, as thousands of bottles of his probiotic remedy to relieve asthma symptoms find their way back on to WA shelves after a three-year absence. After several setbacks, including a factory fire which stopped production of the supplement marketed as Astop, Mr Parry is preparing to float the company Astop Biohealth and launch his product in the US and Japan. The company has built a $1.5 million production laboratory in Belmont which can produce enough freeze-dried probiotic powder to make 8000 bottles of the supplement a week. Developed 4 1 /2 years ago by nutritionist Kay Whyte with financial backing from Mr Parry, Astop also contains anti-oxidants and vitamins. Although it is used by people with asthma to prevent wheezing, coughing and breathlessness, it can only be marketed as a complementary medicine which "maintains healthy respiratory function". But Mr Parry, whose son Cameron now runs the company, said people who used the medicine said it made breathing easier. He wants the State Government to provide a $1 million grant towards a laboratory in Peel to research the use of probiotics in warding off respiratory conditions such as asthma. "We've got the runs on the board after four years and while we don't tell people it replaces their asthma medication we believe these natural medications could help prevent a lot of hospital emergency visits," he said.
Incidentally, the printed version of this report included a photograph describing the product very clearly as a "medicine".
Probiotics to "relieve" asthma symptoms! As well as "anti-oxidants" and "vitamins". Developed, not in a research laboratory by a team of scientists, but by the brave efforts of a lone "nutritionist". And, although it can't legally be marketed as a medicine (because it's not) Mr Parry wants the taxpayer to give him $1 million to support his commercial, publicly floated endeavour, all on the basis of how people tell him they "feel" and his "belief" that somehow this magic potion will cut down on hospitalisations from asthma (which usually is the result of a little more than simply suffering minor asthma symptoms).
Can anyone else smell the reeking scent of woo, patent snakeoil, and also the possibility of commercial scam just to round out the efforts of deception and lies?
What they're not telling you is the extent of the impossibility of this "non medicine", nor all the telltale signs of quackery the company is giving out.
Astop Biohealth Ltd is listed in the Western Australian Biotechnology Directory 2005:
ASTOP BIOHEALTH LTD is an Australian biotechnology company that holds the world exclusive rights to an exciting new medicine, proving to be a successful remedy for respiratory complaints. ASTOP BIOHEALTH LTD has conducted clinical trials on more than 400 respiratory sufferers since late 2001 and continues to conduct research in the area of respiratory diseases and the development of its natural medicine. [...] Randomised Double-Blind Clinical Trials are currently being completed on 100 participants. [...] The ASTOP medicine is supplied as a free flowing powder in capsule form. It is not a puffer and it is not a steroid. ASTOP is a breakthrough medicine that targets the causal factors of respiratory complaints and has proven to be effective as a preventative medicine and also to provide relief from immediate symptoms. ASTOP is comprised of several beneficial probiotics, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and a homeopathic content. It is postulated that the unique synergy between the components stimulates the correct response of the Liver Enzyme System [thereby assisting the detoxification of Free Radicals]; helps correct nutritional imbalances and enhances the body's immune system.
That's a straight quote of the company press release (in fact, it's pretty much the only information they provide, being repeated throughout its various documents and websites). It's the Complete Woo System! It's homepathic! And what on earth is a "homeopathic content"? Does it mean the addition of a small (or even an immense) amount of nothing? Not only does it help "respiratory complaints" but it's a nutritional supplement to boot! Who knows how it works, but it's got "synergy", "stimulation", "detoxification" and, of course, it "stimulates the body's immune system". Oh dear. The only woo word it's missing is "quantum", but EoR expects that ommission to be rectified shortly.
There's a very minimal website for Astop (about as minimal as the evidence for its use) where you can either preorder the product, or view the Offer Information Statement (limited to shareholders of West Australian Metals Limited - which has "invested" $1,000,000 in what was then called Asthmastop, so you won't be able to get in on the ground floor of the next big advance in medicine just yet). The document provides some helpful information:
The formulation has Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) listing as a complementary medicine with the clailm "Helps Fight Mild Upper Respiratory Complaints". [...] ASTOP is non-toxic and has no known side effects.
Yes, it is registered with the TGA. There's no evidence for it, and no further information, just a registration number. But it sounds impressive, nonetheless.
On the Scientific Advisory Panel is, among others, Professor Marc Cohen, Foundation Head of the Department of Complementary Medicine at RMIT. Personally, EoR is getting sick of just how deeply mired in woo RMIT is. Do they not do any real science there? It should also be noted that a share float document is not a scientific paper or any guarantee of medical efficacy. A share float document simply needs to meet the legal requirements applicable to that form of document. Spruiking ASTOP in every venue except the scientific arena is a pattern: it turns up at the Real Estate, Lifestyle and Investment Programme, and at the WA Business News where it is bizarrely apparently being touted as the "answer to bird flu" (the article requires subscription, but the headline itself is enough to scare EoR). Even so, the claims have been considerably watered down from when the product was quite clearly intended to cure asthma (hence its original name, Asthmastop) to now when it simply "helps fight mild upper respiratory complaints".
Asthmastop, the precursor name to ASTOP, has its own website which describes the invention of this miracle product by Kay Whyte (aka S Kay Whyte aka Susan Kay Whyte - sometimes different versions of her name are given on the same page):
The inventor of the ASTHMASTOP medicine, S. Kay Whyte, is a qualified health professional who has had a career-long interest in nutrition, allergies and the enhancement of the immune system. In 1992, her son developed acute asthma and she sought to find a remedy to alleviate its impact on him. At a very early stage Ms Whyte recognised that there are a large number of triggers for respiratory system diseases that may operate either in isolation or in combination. She decided to tackle the problem from a holistic point of view (that is taking into consideration all aspects of a person's health and wellbeing, their domestic and external environment, nutrition intake and immune system balance) rather than limiting her focus to just the symptoms her son was suffering. Ms Whyte concluded that a multifaceted approach promoting beneficial bacteria, vitamins incorporating anti-oxidants and providing minerals to address deficiencies could target the betterment of the respiratory system and bolster the body's natural defense systems. This approach has culminated in the ASTHMASTOP medicine following a process that could be likened to that of Lorenzo's Oil. This dedication and research has now resulted in a unique medicine that may help millions of asthma sufferers not only alleviate their symptoms but overcome the cause of their respiratory system disease and breathing difficulties. This new nutritional medicine targets the causal factors of respiratory system complaints. A pilot study on children and a broad-based trial on more than 250 Australians has shown that the ASTHMASTOP medicine helps fight mild upper respiratory complaints with outstanding success. Results in both the pilot study and the broad-based trial showed a benefit in over 70% of trialists - ranging from moderate benefit to total relief of breathing difficulties.
It's the Lorenzo's Oil of asthma treatments! It cures asthma (at least, that's what EoR takes "overcome the cause of their respiratory system disease" to mean, even though the same page goes on to vaguely claim only a mild effect on upper respiratory tract complaints). It's holistic! And multifaceted! It's made from vegetable products, not animal, so it won't cause allergies (of course, no plant material has ever caused any sort of allergic reaction - which just about shows the level of scientific understanding of the people behind this commercial). Ms Whyte "recognised" that asthma is caused by a range of triggers. Didn't she "recognise" that this is already wellknown? And didn't she know that any doctor dealing with asthma adopts a "holistic" approach, taking a multifactorial approach to dealing with the complaint? Oh, she meant "holistic" in the sense of "woo remedy with no evidence". Sorry.
There is also the massively overwhelming clinical evidence. Well, if you consider unpublished trials with as few as 11 participants, as well as graphs that purport to show reductions in symptoms of around 70% (but 70% of what - the y axis has no units of measurement, only some unexplained numbers - are they cases? percentages? cosmic radiation levels? who knows). Elsewhere the site claims a 100% success rate with children. So is the measurement some scale of "success"? Despite claiming elsewhere that it works within 12 minutes (ignoring that many other, proven, relievers work within minutes as well), another unpublished study claims it is effective in reducing bouts of severe coughing after four weeks (EoR suspects a nice rest would work just as well or, at the very least, the figures for a control group should have been provided). A search of Pubmed showed, unsurprisingly, absolutely no published data about ASTOP or Asthmastop. In fact, this "nutrient medicine" is so effective, that users are strongly urged not to rely on it:
ASTHMASTOP users should continue to take existing medications as required whilst seeing how ASTHMASTOP works for them. ASTHMASTOP Ltd recommends that people always consult their doctor before altering any dosage of a prescribed medication (e.g. steroids).
So, keep taking the real medicine, take the woo homeopathic immune system boosting supplement, and credit any improvement to the latter. You know it's what is really making you better.
Let's see; what else would be a clear sign of no measured effect, no valid studies, and we really just want to take your money very quickly? How about testimonials? Yes, pages and pages of them. Why bother even doing any studies if people already think it's working its miraculous effects on them? Or you could present some vague scientific document in the hope that people will think it already has scientific backing. Oh, something like a University Pharmacy Toxicology Report. Nothing about efficacy there, it's just not poisonous (unless you have kidney disease). Or maybe you could go for the spruiking on lowgrade national "current affairs" television programs? Interestingly, this last page no longer appears to be extant, but a woo believer has kindly made it available on a page of, appropriately enough, suppressed cures (yes, so suppressed the company has a website, a previous website, stock exchange documents, articles in the state newspaper, registration with the TGA etc etc - must be some woo definition of "suppressed" that EoR doesn't know about - perhaps he means "suppressed" as in "all logic has been suppressed"?). Nonetheless, it's interesting to see how the claims about this wonder product have been toned down from the simply medically impossible (and dangerous) claims being made a few years ago to today's rather fey claim to reduce "mild" symptoms as long as you keep taking your regular medication:
Asthmastop is the new venture of Perth entrepreneur, Kevin Parry - the man who bankrolled our defence of the America's Cup in the late 1980s. Parry says Asthmastop is made out of a group of natural products that have special benefits for the body and treats asthma, "from the stomach and liver up". He's also prepared to say that the trialists using the product not longer carry their puffers with them.
People are probably better served seeking information about asthma from the Asthma Foundation or Asthma Research Online (but don't bother looking for Astop on either of those sites - they're obviously part of the conspiracy to suppress this wonderwoo).