New tool to fight obesity approved - but more are needed

FDAThe newly approved anti-obesity drug lorcaserin is "a step in the right direction and we hope that in the future we see additional and different anti-obesity drugs approved,” says David B. Allison, Ph.D., distinguished professor and associate dean for science in the UABSchool of Public Health.

More than one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese, which can lead to many related conditions, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lorcaserin is to be used in addition to a reduced-calorie diet and exercise program in adults with a body mass index of more than 30 (obese) or for those with a BMI of more than 27 (overweight) who also suffer from at least one weight-related condition, according to the FDA.

Allison says orlistat and phentermine were the only other FDA-approved weight-loss drugs available, prior to lorcaserin's approval, but both have drawbacks of their own. Orlistat is very safe, but with modest efficacy, says Allison, and phentermine has slightly better efficacy but is not approved for long term use.

“An additional drug in the arsenal is very important because not everybody responds to drugs in the same way, so having another drug gives more options to try,” Allison explains.

As for why there are currently so few approved anti-obesity drugs, Allison points to a concern he says is legitimate.

“There is a worry that many non-obese persons who want to lose a modest amount of weight for cosmetic or social reasons will get access to these drugs,” Allison says. “This is a legitimate concern, but we should not let the fact that some people will use or try to use a medication outside it's appropriate use prevent us from getting that drug to patients who legitimately need and can benefit from it.”

W. Timothy Garvey, M.D., chair of the UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences, says the approval of a new anti-obesity drug has been a long time coming, as clinicians have faced a void for therapeutic options to offer patients in addition to lifestyle modification and bariatric surgery.