The world’s top diabetes organisations – the American Diabetes Association and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes – have called into question whether a condition being explored by pharmaceutical companies, so-called metabolic syndrome, actually exists.

In a joint paper published in the September issue of Diabetes Care and Diabetologia, the organisations argue that the metabolic syndrome - which has come to be regarded as a predictor of cardiovascular disease - is poorly defined, inconsistently used and in need of further research to help understand whether and how it should be treated. Doctors, the authors warn, should not diagnose people with this "syndrome" or treat it as a separate malady until the science behind it is clear. “We shouldn't be diagnosing people with the ‘metabolic syndrome.’ Doing so misleads the patient into believing he or she has a unique disease. What they really have are well-known cardiovascular risk factors [including high blood pressure, and a high waist to hip ratio and high triglycerides]. The combination of risk factors does not add up to a more significant or higher cardiovascular risk than the individual components,” according to Richard Kahn, chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association.

“The metabolic syndrome requires much more study before its designation as a ‘syndrome’ is truly warranted and before its clinical utility is adequately defined,” the authors wrote in their conclusion.

The news could come as a blow to companies busy developing drugs to treat this condition. One such offering is Sanofi-Aventis’ Acomplia (rimonabant), which is forecast to have multi-billion dollar potential as a treatment for metabolic syndrome. Earlier this week, a Decision Resources report unveiled that the majority of US doctors say they are likely to prescribe Acomplia, following its anticipated launch in mid-2006, but that it is not likely to achieve coverage in healthcare maintenance organisation formularies [[23/08/05g]].