The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has warned a Singapore-based company to stop making false and misleading claims that its health supplement product can treat or cure cancer.
HSA said it has also directed Riway Singapore to educate its sellers to ensure they do not make false claims about the product.
Investigations are ongoing, said the HSA spokesman, in response to queries from The Straits Times.
"We will take the necessary enforcement actions if there are contraventions against the relevant laws," said the spokesman.
"Sellers who falsely advertise health products are liable to prosecution and, if convicted, may be imprisoned for up to two years and/or fined up to $5,000."
HSA was alerted to a recent presentation made by Riway sellers at its headquarters for its flagship product, Purtier Placenta.
Marketing materials published by Riway describe the product as a health supplement with deer placenta as its main ingredient.
The materials also promote the health supplement as a form of live cell therapy, in which stem cells are used to treat diseases, simply through consuming pills.
During a recent presentation attended by ST, sellers were heard making similar claims about the product. They also shared stories about customers affected by various illnesses, such as cancer, eczema and stroke, but who they claimed had seen improvement in their medical conditions after taking the supplement.
During the presentation held at Riway's office in Ang Mo Kio, a seller also said the company's revenue grew from US$3 million (S$4.1 million) in 2009 to US$4 billion in 2017, claiming it as a testament to the success of its flagship product.
Since January 2017, the Consumers Association of Singapore has received six complaints against Riway, of which three were related to misleading claims.
HSA said it "strongly advises" the public to be wary of the product's claims on live cell therapy.
The spokesman said: "There is no robust scientific evidence to support these claims.
"It is also not scientifically proven that oral stem cell therapy can prevent or treat diseases and medical conditions. Live stem cells would generally be destroyed by digestive enzymes in our stomach and gut when consumed orally."
HSA also noted that Riway's sellers have been referencing a laboratory report dated Oct 29, 2008, from the authority to make claims that the health supplement is safe for consumption.
It called the use of the report "misleading" as it contains only the results of a one-off test on a sample of a product submitted by the company for the presence of heavy metals and is not evidence of the product's safety. The authority said it has since directed Riway's sellers to remove the laboratory report from all marketing materials.
"Anyone who misuses the laboratory report to falsely claim that HSA has endorsed the product is liable to be prosecuted for an offence of false advertising," said the spokesman. "If convicted, he may be imprisoned for up to two years and/or fined up to $5,000."
Attempts by ST to contact Riway for comment were unsuccessful.
According to records from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, Riway has been in operation since 2008. It is led by Singaporean Lim Boon Hong, and has overseas branches in eight other countries including Malaysia and Thailand. Mr Lim did not respond to requests for comment.
Professor David Virshup from the Duke-NUS Medical School told ST that he has concerns over the product's claims, adding that clinical applications of stem cell therapy are "still at a very early stage of science".
He added: "At this point, it's still a dream rather than reality. It's not yet available to the public because it's not proven to be safe and effective. It would be a leap to perform such therapies orally."
Prof Virshup, director of the Programme in Cancer and Stem Cell Biology, said studies have shown that such supplements may even do more harm than good. "Supplements are a more expensive way to get the same nutrients one can get from fruits and vegetables. An apple a day keeps the doctor away is probably a cheaper way," he said.