Jennifer Lovejoy, PhD, Senior Vice President, Clinical Development & Support
Today the FDA announced that it has approved a new weight loss drug, lorcaserin (Belviq).
This is truly a milestone since the Agency has been very reluctant to approve any of the new weight loss drugs that have been brought forward in recent years, leaving physicians who treat obesity with only one FDA-approved drug until today.
Lorcaserin works by activating certain neurotransmitters in the brain that stimulate a feeling of fullness , making it easier to feel satisfied after eating a small portion of food. As with other drugs with a similar mechanism of action, there is a potential risk of heart valve problems, and the drug manufacturer will be conducting extensive post-marketing studies to assure that the drug is safe. It should be noted that extensive studies were also conducted before the drug was approved, and there was no difference in side effects between the drug and a placebo, indicating a high level of safety.
While some critics of weight loss drugs argue that any risk is unacceptable, in my view this is both short-sighted and discriminatory. Obesity is a serious, chronic disease with terrible medical and psychosocial consequences, costing both individuals and society a huge amount each year. The effect of obesity in driving the epidemic of Type 2 diabetes alone is enough of a clinical and economic argument to justify the urgent need to treat obesity seriously. Yet, until today, weight loss drugs have been held to an unfair standard one not equaled in new drug reviews for any other chronic condition (e.g. diabetes, high blood pressure, etc).
Within weeks, the FDA is expected to issue a final ruling on another new weight loss drug, QNexa. QNexa is a combination of two drugs that are already FDA-approved and widely used for other conditions, so hopefully the news on that drug will be favorable as well. While lifestyle change will always remain the foundation of successful obesity management, experts agree that the availability of effective drugs to assist those who are unsuccessful with lifestyle change alone will be a huge step forward in stemming the tide of obesity-related health concerns.
Dr. Jennifer Lovejoy is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development & Support at Alere Wellbeing and past president of the Obesity Society. Dr. Lovejoys clinical research program has been funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the American Diabetes Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and NASA. Read other blog posts by Jennifer Lovejoy.
Learn about our Weight Talk® personal coaching program, designed to achieve measurable, sustainable weight loss.