Earlier this year, we told you about an FDA back-channel that allows drug companies to turn supplements into drugs — and remove the supplement versions from the market. This has happened to a popular and medically important version of vitamin B6 (pyridoxamine), and with the FDA’s approval of a new drug to treat sickle cell anemia, the same could happen to L-glutamine. Unless we close a back-channel at the FDA, more and more supplements will be turned into expensive drugs, and consumers won’t be able to manage their health cheaply and naturally with the supplement versions.
Last year, the FDA announced the approval of Endari, a drug for sickle cell disease. Endari is an oral powder comprised of L-glutamine, an important amino acid currently available as a supplement. The drug company, Emmaus Medical, Inc., filed an investigational new drug (IND) application — demonstrating their investigation of L-glutamine as a drug — on May 15, 1997. This is important because there is no new dietary ingredient (NDI) notification for L-glutamine. (Think of an NDI notification as a “new supplement” notification; by law an NDI notification must be filed on supplements that came to market after 1994.)
Enter the FDA back-channel. If a drug company begins investigating a nutrient for use in a drug before a supplement company files an NDI notification on that nutrient, the company can ask the FDA to have supplement version removed from the market, leaving consumers with no other option than the drug. Currently, a 120-pill bottle of L-glutamine can be purchased for less than $10; a year’s worth of Endari will reportedly cost consumers more than $40,000.
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