Several New Medications to Treat Obesity in the Pipeline, USA Today Reports
The cover story of USA Today's "Life" section today reports on the growing number of medications in drug makers' pipelines that treat or prevent obesity. Pharmaceutical insiders say there are 50 to 100 drugs in development that burn calories, control appetite or create a "feeling of fullness" to combat obesity. Even though most of the medications will never be sold, pharmaceutical companies have taken the risk of testing them because the next safe and effective obesity drug likely will generate billions of dollars in sales. In the United States, 54 million people are obese, and the number of overweight children is increasing. Some experts also say that while current diet drugs are aimed at individuals who are 30 pounds or more overweight -- defined as obesity -- future medications could treat people who are 10 to 20 pounds overweight to keep them from becoming obese. The companies are pursuing new diet medications although the drug class has experienced "pitfalls" in the past. In 1997, for example, the FDA pulled fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine -- also known as Redux -- from the market over concerns that the drug combinations might be linked to heart valve problems. Drug companies marketing the new medications also will encounter the problems that many insurance companies do not cover diet drugs and that patients may expect a "miracle" by taking the drugs, even though weight loss may only be 5% to 10% over six months. In addition, obesity experts say that lifestyle changes, such as better diets and more exercise, are better at controlling weight than drugs are (Hellmich, USA Today, 4/29).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.