FTC Comes Down on Drink, Supplement That Targeted Cancer Patients

January 11th, 2018

A Florida-based dietary supplement company and its embattled founder and former CEO are banned from marketing any product as “clinically proven” to treat, cure, mitigate, or prevent cancer or certain side effects of cancer treatments under a settlement announced today with the FTC.

That’s part of the price CellMark Biopharma and its former top executive Derek E. Vest agreed to pay to settle FTC allegations that the company used “false or unsupported claims” to market a drink called CellAssure and a supplement called Cognify to cancer patients experiencing malnutrition and cognitive dysfunction aka “chemo fog.” It’s not the first run-in with the law for Vest, not even in the last year. In August, Vest started an 18-month federal prison sentence in connection to an unrelated case involving the marketing of amphetamine-laced supplements.

Among the health benefits touted on CellMark’s website and YouTube channel for CellAssure and Cognify were:

  • “…CellAssure is an innovative medical nutrition drink designed for the needs of all cancer patients battling the detrimental effects of cancer and cancer treatments (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and emotional turmoil).”
  • “CellAssure’s clinically proven ingredients were scientifically formulated to deliver an unheard of level of health, protection and quality of life for our patients.”
  • “CellAssure specifically addresses the malnutrition suffered by over 80% of all cancer patients by providing one of the most advanced nutritional formulas for ones (sic) cancer diet than has been available in the past.”
  • “Cognify is the world’s first product designed specifically to alleviate chemo brain (chemo fog) signs and symptoms.”
  • Breast cancer testimonial: “Less than two weeks after I started taking the Cognify, I began to remember the names of places and people and things. … Thank you, Cognify, for lifting my brain fog.”

The FTC alleged in its complaint that none of these claims, among a range of others, were backed by competent and reliable scientific evidence:

There are no human clinical studies of CellAssure demonstrating any efficacy in treating cachexia and other cancer-related malnutrition; in improving cancer patients’ ability to withstand cancer treatments; or its purported anti-cancer or anti-tumor properties. Likewise, there are no human clinical studies of Cognify demonstrating its efficacy in treating or mitigating chemo brain in cancer patients.

From January 2016 to January 2017, a one-month supply of CellAssure sold on CellMark’s website for $248, while a month’s supply of Cognify went for $79. Unfortunately for consumers, the settlement offers no refunds. From the looks of it, the company’s website is focused on a different market now.

In addition to the ban on “clinically proven” cancer-treatment claims, CellMark and Vest must ensure that any future disease-treatment claims are supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence — that is, once Vest gets out of prison.

Find more of our coverage on cancer here.

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