David Nutt developing a drug that could have the effects of alcohol without the downsides
According the World Health Organization, 2.5 million people die of alcohol-related diseases and alcohol is the world’s third largest risk factor for premature mortality, disability and loss of health.
It is also the leading risk factor in the Western Pacific and the Americas and the second largest in Europe, so when a former British government advisor says that he is developing a drug that mimics the sensation of alcohol without the health risks, people do tend to sit up and notice.
The idea of developing an alcohol substitute which selectively blocks the undesirable effects while leaving the pleasurable effects, isn’t new.
Prof David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at the Imperial College said that he is researching a new drug that targets GABA, a chemical produced by the brain, and produces the same effects as alcohol.
So far he has identified five compounds that can effect gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, while avoiding other brain receptors, but says he needs investors to fund his research and clinical trials, and could bring the product to the market within two years.
Nutt used to be an advisor to the Ministry of Defence, Department of Health and the Home Office and was the chief drugs advisor before being dismissed in 2009 over policy issues regarding drug harm and classification.
In 2010 Nutt co-authored a study published in the Lancet, which said that alcohol was three times more harmful than cocaine or tobacco and overall, alcohol is more dangerous especially if the individual and society are considered, so there is no doubt that he believes his research could lead to a ‘revolution in health’ and not only save people but also millions in healthcare.
Speaking to the Dragon's Den presenter Evan Davis on the BBC's Today programme, Prof Nutt claimed he has used himself as a guinea pig, “I’ve done the prototype experiments myself,” he said. “I’ve been inebriated and then it’s been reversed by the antagonist.
“That’s what really gave us the idea. There’s no question that you can produce a whole range of effects like alcohol by manipulating the brain.”
Unsurprisingly, no one in the £20 billion-a-year drinks industry has come forward to fund the drug’s development.