Obesity

For the first time in more than a dozen years, an FDA advisory panel has given its approval of an anti-obesity drug to the agency for consideration.

The drug, called Qnexa, was first rejected by the FDA in 2010, and is similar to several other diet pills, including the controversial Fen Phen, which was pulled from the market in 1997 for serious health risks including valvular heart disease and pulmonary hypertension and adverse side effects such as an increased risk of birth defects. Qnexa’s active ingredients, the stimulant Phemtermine (also found in Fen Phen) and Topiramate, which has a history of use as an anti-convulsant drug, reportedly aid in weight loss by decreasing the user’s appetite and boosting metabolism.  According to clinical trials, as many as 70 percent of Qnexa users lost at least 5 percent of their total body weight versus the control group where fewer than 20 percent lost as much.

While the FDA can rule against the recommendation of the advisory panel, speculations suggest Qnexa will be approved, and has the potential to be the “next Lipitor” with millions of possible prescriptions distributed mainly to revitalize the ailing sector of the pharmaceutical industry that hasn’t produced a successful anti-obesity drug in over a decade. If it were to be approved, parent company Vivus says it will be with “limited distribution” and a requirement of “trained prescribers” who would be responsible for educating patients, particularly on the risks during pregnancy.

But, like other anti-obesity drugs, will Qnexa position itself as a magic bullet of sorts that creates a façade of disappearing weight without addressing the importance of a healthy diet? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites more than one-third of adult Americans are obese (35.7 percent), a statistic that correlates with the rise in processed and fast foods along with the increasingly limited access to fresh foods defined by the USDA’s “food desert” map that estimates more than 13 million Americans don’t have easy access to healthy food.

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Image: Ed Yourdon