You may recall that researcher Jonas Salk is credited with eradicating polio, and now a former diabetes device company leader and doctor says he wants to become the Jonas Salk of Diabetes.
Given that Dr. John Burd is the founder and first-ever CEO of standout continuous glucose monitor company Dexcom, he could very well be on his way.
Or he may have completely lost his mind. You decide, based on what he said during a recent phone interview about his latest venture. We also checked in with some respected healthcare professionals to learn their POVs on what Dr. Burd is working on.
Quite simply, it’s the story of a nutritional supplement that aims to end type 2 diabetes. Here we go...
The Lysulin Claim
First, let’s introduce Burd for those who don’t know his name. Most notably, he started Dexcom back in 1999 and was the first CEO there. He's a serial entrepreneur now on his fifth company in the diabetes space, this time abandoning biotech in favor of low tech. Instead of being on the cutting edge of medical science -- as he’s been all his life -- he’s now hawking two over-the-counter products. Sit down. One is called Wonder Spray. No kidding. The second, the one Burd is pinning his Salk aspirations on, is a diet supplement called Lysulin. Yes, your read that right. A diet supplement. A simple blend of the amino acid lysine, the chemical element zinc, and vitamin C.
And what’s this witches’ brew supposed to do?
Not much. Just lower A1C better than most prescription drugs on the planet. Just improve lipids. And blood pressure. Prevent complications. In fact, according to Burd, Lysulin has the potential eradicate type 2 diabetes from the face of the planet altogether, making him the Jonas Salk of diabetes.
If anyone else made these claims, especially of a diet supplement, I’d laugh. But the messenger makes me pause. John Burd is no ordinary snake oil salesman.
The Man Behind Lysulin
Again it would be easy to ignore such claims, if it weren’t for the man making them. Burd has a B.S. in biochem from Purdue University, and a M.S. and Ph.D. in the same field from the University of Wisconsin. While he’s best known in the diabetes space for being the founder of Dexcom, and the CEO who guided the novel CGM company through its early years, Dexcom wasn’t Burd’s first dance with diabetes. His first job out of college was at Ames Laboratories, the company who brought the first home glucometer to market.
In the decades following he’s been at the epicenter of medical innovation time and time again. He holds 25 patents, and has been at the helm of at least five bio tech companies.
The Science of Lysulin
But, surely, you say, lysine, zinc, and vitamin C can’t do anything to help diabetes! Well… not so fast. There’s actually quite a bit of clinical research showing that any of the three can have a positive impact on type 2 diabetes.
- Lysine: In diabetes, a few
animaland humanstudies suggest that it may help with glucose regulation, possibly due to the reduced glycation of albumin in the presenceof lysine.
- Zinc: There’s
quite a lotof evidence that zinc may be beneficial, largely due toa complex dancebetween zinc and the beta cells in the pancreas.
- Vitamin C: Several studies have
shownthat taking good old vitamin C might lower A1C, possibly through its antioxidant properties.
So the components of the not-so-secret sauce of Lysulin, individually, all have at least some science suggesting that they can benefit people with diabetes, generally type 2s.
But it’s not just better blood sugar they're aiming for. Burd believes, and there’s
Still, Burd’s claims for his trio of compounds far outstrips the improvements seen by them individually in other studies, to a level that can only be described as mind-blowing. An A1C drop of 1.91%. A nearly 12 mmHg drop in blood pressure. Triglycerides down 47 mg/dL. And all of this with no serious adverse effects.
That’s some concoction Burd is selling.
In fact, Burd freely admits he’s frequently accused of being a snake oil salesman when it comes to Lysulin. “Oh bullshit, people tell me. It can’t do all of that.” His response? Beyond, “Try for yourself and see?” Burd readily admits that supplements get a well-deserved bum rap. He says that’s because, historically, many supplement companies have “made unsubstantiated claims.” Conversely, he says, his latest company is standing on the solid ground of science.
But is it really? Just how good is Lysulin’s science?
In terms of published research, there’s really only one Lysulin study to date, a pilot study published in the journal Diabetes Management. It’s a small study with 67 subjects, double-blind and placebo controlled, with 20 subjects taking Lysulin for the entire study period. Are 20 test subjects enough? For a pilot study, which this is, absolutely. But the purpose of a pilot study is to help design a larger study, which in turn can truly make a clinical outcomes statement; and while a surprising amount of published science looks at as few a dozen people, these studies aren’t generally used to support product claims, as in this case.
"Open Access" Research Journals
What? What’s that? You’ve never heard of that particular journal? Yeah, me neither. And I’ve been in this business for a while. It turns out that Diabetes Management is one of the new open access publications, which do not charge their readers for the periodical, but instead charge authors a “handling fee” to pay for operational costs.
If you haven’t heard yet, open access is the new Wild West, at least when it comes to academic publishing. The fees range widely, in some cases many thousands of dollars per article. Some of these publications are respectable and legit, but many of these so-called journals are nothing more than high-tech vanity press houses: The publisher gets to stuff his wallet while the author gets to pad his resume. How common are—dare I say it—these fake-news academic journals?
One list of sleazy journals is so long it wore out my mouse’s scroll wheel.
Still, I need to be clear that not all open access journals are money-printing machines. Even though Diabetes Management is not listed in the journal rankings of Directory of Open Access Journals, doesn’t have a SCImago rank, and does not appear to be a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, I couldn’t find a single person with anything bad to say about them. They are “whitelisted” by Journal Guide—plus the journal is supposedly peer reviewed. On top of that, the Lysulin study clearly, and appropriately, disclosed that three of the authors are employees of Lysulin and that the company paid for the research. The principal investigator, Dr. Francisco Alberto Alvarez Melero of the St. John’s Medical Center in Tijuana, Baja California, is said to have no conflict of interest; and while there is scant evidence of other scientific publication credits by him on the web, he is well-connected with the DOC community through Facebook.
So while Diabetes Management seems to pass the sniff test, the same isn’t true of another journal in which Burd has written about Lysulin in. In July 2018, he published case study paper in Juniper Publishers’ Journal of Endocrinology and Thyroid Research, a publication which was blacklisted as a “predatory journal” on Research Gate at one time.
None of this necessarily negates what Burd’s written, but I for one would like to see more, larger studies in a wider net of scientific publications. With only one pilot study in an open access pub and another paper in a poorly regarded publication, some people are sure to say the data isn’t real, but is merely marketing masquerading as science.
More on Lysulin Itself
Why the trinity of lysine, zinc, and vitamin C? Burd says that he was first made aware of research around lysine, but that there were too many competitors in the OTC supplement space to consider selling lysine by itself. He knew he had to do something special, so he researched other compounds that seemed to help type 2 diabetes and came upon zinc and vitamin C.
If his science plays out, what’s to keep everyone and his brother from competing with the same ingredient combo? Patents, Burd says, which are well under way. He says if others want to make something similar, he’ll be happy to license it to them, and otherwise, if forced to, he’ll sue infringers.
Burd says that Lysulin comes as a capsule, a chewable, and a liquid, and is in made here in the USA. How many PWDs are using it a year after its launch? “Hundreds, not tens of thousands,” said Burd.
The product is sold at Lysulin’s website either as single purchase, or as an automatic subscription, and on Amazon. If you live in New York, Lysulin is coming to a Kinney Drugs store near you, and Burd says that he’s in talks with Rite Aid, who may pick up Lysulin later this year.
What about the claim that the supplement is side effect free? Burd swears that it is, but lysine causes stomach pain and diarrhea in some people who take it, and is generally contra-indicated with calcium supplementation as lysine can increase calcium uptake. Likewise, zinc can mess with the stomach as can vitamin C. But all of that said, most people tolerate all three well.
Not for Everybody
Taking the pilot study at face value, when Lysulin works, it really works. But it doesn’t work for everyone. Of the subjects who completed the pilot study, 14 saw glucose improvements on Lysulin, and 6 were “non-responders,” meaning the compound had no effect on them.
Burd acknowledges that his product doesn’t work for everyone and cited an example from his own family: His brother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last year with an A1C of 7.4 and started taking Lysulin and nothing else. Within a year his A1C was 5.2. “I basically cured my brother of diabetes,” said Burd, “can you imagine how happy that made me?” But he wasn’t so lucky with a niece. Lysulin didn’t work for her, but she’s doing well on metformin.
Still, Burd points out that prescription drugs don’t work for 100% of patients, but rather the success rate he claims varies between 30 and 50%, so he’s happy if Lysulin can work for 76% of people.
And Burd takes Lysulin himself. He figures it’s a good preventative measure, given the fact that there’s a lot of diabetes in his family tree.
Dr. Steve Edelman, of TCOYD fame, appears to have given Lysulin an endorsement in the company’s advertising, but he didn’t respond to my requests for more information about his experiences with the product.
What are others saying?
We reached out to dozens of docs and CDEs. All declined to comment on the record. The general theme was that the message sounded unbelievable, but that the messenger made them sit up and take notice. There was also a general trend of wanting to see more robust studies published in more highly regarded journals.
Meanwhile, on Amazon there are only four reviews as of this writing, and one of them shares a last name with the founder. That seems like low numbers for a product that’s been on the market for over a year, but none of the reviews are negative.
I found Burd whip-smart, sincere, and passionate. Despite the potential weakness of the open access platform and the inherent weakness of a small pilot study, he seems genuine in his faith in his product, and I didn’t get the sense that he’s a charlatan. “I’m here to bring better health to the world,” he told me, “I’m not making this up.” I believe that he believes that.
So is this the real deal? Is he… you know… right? In his convictions and his product?
After talking to him, and digging deeply into his science and the science of others on these three compounds, I found myself deeply conflicted. As I was sitting at my desk contemplating it all, my son came in and asked me how the interview had gone and what I thought about it.
Without missing a beat, my subconsciousness sent sarcasm straight to my lips. I said, “He’s either gonna win the Nobel Prize or be locked up in an asylum.”
I find the data hard to believe, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if Lysulin went by the wayside. But I liked Burd, and I hope to hell it goes the other way, that he gets the Nobel -- and goes down in history as the Jonas Salk of Diabetes.