Promising obesity-drug candidate destroys bone, studies say

A compound that looked to be a possible wonder drug for obesity and metabolic disease, such as diabetes, may not make it to store shelves. Research published this week shows the hormone, called fibroblast growth factor 21, causes bone loss while it burns fat.

The finding is yet another setback in the difficult field of drug development aimed at the country's obesity epidemic.

Two studies, one published last week in the journal Cell, and another published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used mice to examine the effects of FGF21. Over a two-week period, mice that were fed the compound lost 78% of their spongy bone. Mice bred to lack the hormone completely had large gains in bone mass.

FGF21 had true potential to lower insulin and obesity but those benefits are washed out by the bone risk, said a co-author of the PNAS paper, Dr. David Mangelsdorf, of UT Southwestern Medical Center. It's possible that a drug could be designed in a way that extends metabolic benefits while turning off the side effects.

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