General Health Friday August 3, 2012

New obesity medication – what you need to know

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In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States approved Xenical, a medication that could help treat obesity. It was the second obesity medication to be approved in the latter end of the decade, following on the heels of Reductil, which was approved in 1997. Several years later, a third medication for the purpose of weight loss called Acomplia was approved. However, by 2010 just one of these medications – Xenical – was still licensed for use, both in the United States and here in the UK.

Both Reductil and Acomplia were withdrawn for safety reasons, as research had indicated that the risk of certain side effects outweighed the benefits the medications could provide. The withdrawal of these two highly popular and effective treatments had a profound effect on the industry, raising understandable concerns about approving new medications intended to treat the same condition.

As a result, the FDA has since been reticent when it comes to approving new obesity medications bearing in mind the potential risks in relation to the possible benefits. Since 2010, the FDA has rejected three different medications, citing safety concerns in each instance. Despite concerns that perhaps no new obesity medications would ever be approved, in 2012 two medications have been approved by the FDA. These are Belviq and Qsymia. You can click on each respective link to find out more information about each of these medications.

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What is significant about these two approvals is that it is a positive sign for obesity treatment, both in terms of the industry that produces these medications and the patients who would benefit from them. Though Xenical is a highly effective medication, its digestive side effects are often off-putting for people. Both Belviq and Qsymia work as appetite suppressants, which in a sense means that they prevent the over-consumption of food rather than simply dealing with the food after it is eaten. The availability of alternative treatments gives patients the option of choosing a medication that is better suited to them and their individual needs.

It is important to recognise that the approval by the FDA is just the first stage in the process of a medication being made available here in the UK. Medications need to be approved by the EMA before they can be licensed in Europe, and approved by the MHRA before they can be made available in the UK. It is likely that it will be several months before either Belviq or Qsymia is available to patients in the UK, with estimates suggesting late 2012 or early 2013.

We will continue to update the HealthExpress blog if and when we receive any further information on the licensing and availability of Belviq, Qsymia and any other medication designed to help treat obesity.

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