New lawsuit targets Prevagen, challenges claims that the supplement to improve memory

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – A popular supplement that claims to boost memory is the target of a new lawsuit. The supplement called Prevagen is sold in nearly every major retail store in the country, but critics say it’s worthless.

In advertisements on TV and online, the manufacturer of Prevagen says the product will support a “sharper mind,” “clearer thinking” and “healthy brain function.”

The product label says that clinical tests demonstrated some improvements in cognitive function in as little as 90 days.

However, the plaintiffs in a class action suit fled in Texas in late February said those claims are false, deceptive and designed to “dupe consumers ” into buying a supplement that has no effect on the brain.

Prevagen contains a synthetic protein called apoaequorin, modeled on a protein found in jellyfish.

Dr. Neal Devaraj, a biochemist at the University of California San Diego said a protein taken orally would be broken down in the digestive process before it could reach the bloodstream. Since apoaequorin is a large water soluble protein, Devaraj said it would be unlikely for it to pass the barrier from the bloodstream into the brain.

Even though many may question the scientific basis for Prevagen’s claims, the manufacturer is still permitted to make its claims through its commercials, on the product package and on the bottle itself. Miro Copic, a professor of marketing at San Diego State University said that products marketed as dietary supplements face much less regulatory oversight.

“The dietary supplement space is kind of the ‘Wild, Wild West,’ ” Copic said. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, Prevagen isn’t subject to review by the Food and Drug Administration.

The supplements are covered by a 1994 law that’s less protective of consumers.

In the stores we visited, we found that the product was nearly sold out. A bottle of the extra strength formula sells for $60 a bottle, for a 30 day supply.

Two years ago, the company that makes Prevagen was sued by the Federal Trade Commission. In its defense, Quincy Bioscience, based in Madison, Wisconsin argued that it had performed clinical trials to support its claims.

The FTC countered that the initial studies were inconclusive. However, the judge hearing the case ruled in Prevagen’s favor, after the supplement maker went back to the data, and selectively picked data subgroups to support its marketing claims.

While Prevagen prevailed in that 2017 case, last month a federal appeals court overturned the decision, setting the stage for the latest lawsuit. Copic said the suit poses challenges for the plaintiffs.

“You’re not being forced to buy this. It’s not a prescription.They’re making no claims that it will help you specifically. That’s why a lot of times, lawsuits in this arena are really hard to win,” Copic said.

Quincy Bioscience declined our request for an interview about the lawsuit.

A company spokesperson told us, “Nevertheless, we believe the claims are baseless and we will continue to fight these allegations on behalf of the millions of consumers who take Prevagen every day to improve their memory.”

The class action lawsuit filed several weeks ago is seeking reimbursement for the amount the class members spent on Prevagen and the difference between Prevagen and the market price of generic protein pills of a similar quantity and type.

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