Efficacy From Strange Sources
Sir Alexander Fleming's discovery of the world's first antibiotic substance, benzylpenicillin (Penicillin G), in 1928 is perhaps the first example of modern reverse translation (RT). The often‐told story is that Fleming returned to his laboratory after having spent August 1928 on vacation with his family. The perceptive bacteriologist observed that one of his cultures of staphylococci that he left in his laboratory was contaminated with a strange fungus. Colonies immediately surrounding the fungus were completely destroyed, while those that were farther away were normal. Fleming's remark upon seeing this—“that's funny”—was almost as famous as when Watson and Crick declared 25 years later that “the structure of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D.N.A.) has novel features which are of considerable biological interest.” Fleming subsequently grew the mold in a pure culture and found that it produced a substance that killed a number of disease‐causing bacteria. He identified the mold as being from the Penicillium notatum and 6 months after discovering what he called “mold juice,” named it penicillin. For their “accidental discoveries,” both Fleming and colleagues (Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Florey) as well as Watson and his colleagues (Francis Crick and Maurice Watkins) received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1945 and 1962, respectively. These discoveries emphasize the critical importance of perception and observations in science.
Keep Plato's quote in mind, and fast forward to 1985. Epidemiologists perceived that few Eskimos died of cardiovascular diseases. These scientists believed that this was because Eskimos ate a lot of fish, especially salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and tuna. Subsequent controlled studies provided evidence that by eating more fish or by taking fish oil supplements (aka omega‐3′s), a person's level of triglyceride and blood pressure can fall. This observation led to the discovery that development of four different prescription‐strength omega‐3 fatty acids containing a combination of mainly the long chain fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may be useful reducing the risk of heart disease. To date, four omega‐3 formulations have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat high triglyceride levels as an adjunct to diet in patients with severe hypertriglyceridemia (≥500 mg/dl). The four products, including some blockbusters, are: Epanova, Lovaza, Omtryg, and Vascepa. However, to be fair, over the past 8–9 years there have been studies that have been both favorable and unfavorable to fish oils as a therapeutic remedy for cardiovascular benefits, although the failure of omega‐3's in some studies is thought to be due to too low a dose (i.e., over‐the‐counter fish oil vs. prescription fish oil).