The CSIRO says it was not involved in the pill’s development, and the university says its researchers never studied the supplement’s impact on weight loss.
The embarrassing revelation comes amid criticism the CSIRO has dropped its standards in a bid to commercialise its research.
Leading scientists are aghast at the CSIRO’s links to the pill, which contains lauric acid, and claims to stimulate the metabolism and assist weight loss by controlling hunger.
«Are they really selling it? Wow, that’s amazing,» said Associate Professor Zane Andrews, a leading appetite researcher at Monash University.
«There’s no evidence for it increasing weight loss. I find it amazing they are marketing this. It’s amazing … this would be no more beneficial than a placebo.»
A CSIRO spokeswoman said the organisation helped develop Impromy’s broader weight loss program, but not Metabolic C12.
She said the CSIRO would review its involvement with Impromy.
The website advertising the pill has been taken down.
«The way in which CSIRO’s name is currently being used in association with the Impromy program sits outside the scope of what was approved by CSIRO in the original agreement,» the spokeswoman said.
Four per cent of the revenue the CSIRO earns from Impromy sales must be spent on further joint research between the CSIRO and Blackmores under that agreement.
Early research on lauric acid was done at the University of Adelaide, with promising results on appetite suppression. But it was never specifically tested for weight loss, the university says.
«University researchers … conducted a series of studies all published in international scientific journals into the effects of lauric acid on hunger and energy intake but not weight loss,» a university spokesman said.
«Our researchers say that at no point have they implied that the findings of this research indicate a benefit for weight loss.
«No studies have currently been conducted to investigate weight loss.»
Despite that, Metabolic C12 had permission to carry the University of Adelaide’s name, the spokesman said.
Lauric acid is a type of fatty acid found in coconut oil. When the body detects fat in the small intestine, signals are sent to the brain to cut appetite.
In the early 2000s, a team of researchers at the University of Adelaide tried to discover if a lauric acid pill could have the same effect.
A series of studies culminated in the 2014 trial of the effect of lauric acid on 14 healthy men. After taking the acid, the researchers tracked how much breakfast and lunch the men ate.
There did not seem to be any effect on the amount they had to eat for breakfast, but those taking the acid ate about 13.1 per cent less for lunch than a control group.
When The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald emailed the lead author of the lauric acid study, Professor Christine Feinle-Bisset, via her University of Adelaide email, a Blackmores’ representative replied.
«It’s a solid piece of research,» Professor Andrews said. «But it’s very pilot. It’s a long, long way from being anything that is going to be a drug or something like that.»
After seeing the product’s website, Associate Professor Ken Harvey – a campaigner for accurate medical labelling – said he would start drafting a formal complaint about misleading advertising to the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
«It raises all sorts of concerns. It is being promoted unethically, with CSIRO and the University of Adelaide’s name on it, in a manner that in my opinion breaches many provisions of the therapeutic goods advertising code,» Mr Harvey said.
Blackmores bought the Impromy brand from another company, Probiotec, in November 2018. After being contacted by The Age and the Herald, Blackmores said a review of Metabolic C12 found claims made about its evidence fell «below Blackmores’ strict standards».
The product is being reviewed, a spokeswoman said.
Liam is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s science reporter