The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the state of New York filed a lawsuit on Monday against Quincy Bioscience, LLC over their popular product Prevagen, a memory-boosting supplement. The lawsuit claims there is no proof that Prevagen actually works.
“The marketing for Prevagen is a clear-cut fraud, from the label on the bottle to the ads airing across the country,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “It’s particularly unacceptable that this company has targeted vulnerable citizens like seniors in its advertising for a product that costs more than a week’s groceries, but provides none of the health benefits that it claims.”
Prevagen retails between $24 to $68 for just 30 pills, is available everywhere from CVS to Amazon, and regularly appears in commercials on major networks like CNN. During the on-air commercials, the company boasts that its active ingredient, a protein derived from jellyfish, will improve memory. Their ads are designed to target senior citizens, who are at high risk for memory loss.
“As we age, we lose proteins that support our brain,” their TV ad explains. “Prevagen supplements these proteins and has been clinically shown to improve memory.”
However, the lawsuit alleges that there is a major problem with this claim — it’s only based on one study called the Madison Memory Study. The study gave either the drug or a placebo to 218 people and then asked the participants to complete certain tasks on a computer.
The lawsuit says that the study was inconclusive because it failed to show an improvement in the group who took the supplement over the placebo group on any of their computerized cognitive tasks.
“The marketers of Prevagen preyed on the fears of older consumers experiencing age-related memory loss,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “But one critical thing these marketers forgot is that their claims need to be backed up by real scientific evidence.”
Quincy Bioscience, which sold a whopping $165 million worth of Prevagen between 2007 and mid-2015, strongly disagreed with the complaint. Specifically, the biotechnology company called into question how the government analyzed the data from its study.
“We vehemently disagree with these allegations made by only two FTC commissioners,” Quincy Bioscience told Gizmodo. “This case is another example of government overreach and regulators extinguishing innovation by imposing arbitrary new rules on small businesses like ours.”
The agency also charged Quincy Bioscience co-founders, CEO Michael Beaman and President Mark Underwood, who appeared in the popular infomercials.
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.