In June 2012, the FDA approved a new weight loss drug—their first in 13 years. Called “Belviq (lorcaserin hydrochloride)” and manufactured by Arena Pharmaceuticals, the pill was cleared for use in obese patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. Arena could not release the pill on the market at that time, however, because the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had yet to complete their safety review.
Now, according to Bloomberg, the DEA has also cleared Belviq for sale, which means the drug may be available by prescription as soon as June 2013. Though some remain concerned about the safety of the medication, others look forward to the drug’s potential benefits.
What is Belviq?
Similar to an older weight loss drug called “fenfluramine,” which was part of the “fen-phen” diet pill of the 1990s that was later linked to heart valve problems, Belviq targets the hormone in the brain called the “serotonin 2C receptor” that regulates appetite. According to Arena, Belviq is a safer option than fen-phen because it targets more specifically those receptors associated with hunger, and helps promote a feeling of satiety and fullness.
Weight loss drug helps dieters lose weight
In a press release, the FDA stated that Belviq “does not appear to activate” the chemical pathway that was linked with heart valve problems. Meanwhile, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that about half of those who took the weight loss drug lost at least 5 percent of their body weight, compared to only 20 percent of those taking a placebo. About one in five patients who took Belviq lost 10 percent or more of their body weight, compared to one in fourteen of those taking a placebo.
The study also noted that patients who continued taking the drug after one year were able to maintain their weight loss more successfully than those who switched to a placebo. The patients taking the drug showed no increased rate of heart valve problems.
Other weight loss pills available
Doctors have other options in addition to Belviq when prescribing weight loss pills to patients. In July 2012, for instance, the FDA approved a weight loss drug called Qsymia for patients who are overweight or obese and also have one related health condition, like diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.
Manufacturer Vivus Inc. stated that patients taking Qsymia for at least a year lost 6.7 percent of their body weight in one study, and 8.9 percent in another. The drug is a combination of phentermine, a stimulant that suppresses appetite, and topiramate, an anticonvulsant that increases satiety.
Qsymia, when taken by pregnant women, has been linked with birth defects. The FDA recommends that women of childbearing age go through a pregnancy test before taking it.
Are weight loss pills safe?
In addition to the safety concerns with fen-phen, another weight loss drug—Meridia—was also linked with safety issues. After a study showed that it increased risk for heart attack and stroke, manufacturer Abbott Laboratories withdrew the medication from the market.
An FDA panel that met in 2010 voiced concerns about Belviq’s safety, since it has been linked with tumors in animal studies. It may also cause serotonin syndrome, and disturbances in attention or memory. Obesity rates in America continue to increase, however, creating a rising need for new treatments.
“Obesity is one of the biggest health problems we face in this nation,” said Abraham Thomas, M.D., endocrinologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, “and unfortunately the diet and lifestyle message is not working for many people.”
- Bloomberg, Arena’s FDA-Approved Weight Loss Pill Clears DEA Hurdle, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-07/arena-s-fda-approved-weight-loss-pill-clears-dea-hurdle.html
- Fox News Latino, Highly Anticipated Weight-Loss Pill Approved by the FDA, http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/health/2012/07/18/highly-anticipated-weight-loss-pill-approved-by-fda/
- NBCNews.com, FDA approves new weight loss drug, http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nightly-news/47987679#47987679
- WebMD, FDA Approves Diet Pill Belviq, http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20120627/fda-approves-diet-pill-belviq
- NY Daily News, FDA clears first new weight-loss pill in 13 years, http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/fda-clears-new-weight-loss-pill-13-years-article-1.1103538