Will pill-popping beat obesity?

Last updated 10:38 06/08/2012
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SWEET VICTORY: Are pills the answer to the world's obesity problems?

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It had to happen sooner or later. After a 13-year hiatus in the approval of drugs to help reduce obesity, a couple of weight-loss pills recently got the nod from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), albeit with a few caveats to make sure that these are heart-safe, unlike some previous offerings.

Arena Pharmaceuticals' Belviq broke the ice, getting approval from the FDA in late June, with Vivus Inc's Qsymia securing the okay a few weeks later. Vivus claims that obese people who take the drug can look forward to losing about 10 per cent of their body weight after 12 months, which is a lot of weight if you're obese.

Qsymia is a combination of two drugs, an anti-seizure medication and an appetite suppressant, which together work their magic. Yet just two years ago, this same drug was assessed by the FDA under its previous name, Qnexa. Approval wasn't granted then because the side effects - confusion, memory loss, birth defects, increased heart rate, kidney stones - were deemed too dangerous. But the FDA has now granted approval to the same drug because the side effects of obesity are perceived to be far worse. Gawd!

Just read that list of side effects again to get some idea of the desperate state in which the FDA finds itself.

The obesity epidemic has long been seen by big business as a way to make money, to the extent that trading strategists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch say obesity-related stocks now represent a significant investment opportunity. They recommend investors check out not just pharmaceutical, health-care, diet and weight-loss companies, but also sporting-apparel companies such as Nike and Adidas.

About 21 per cent of the US healthcare budget goes towards treating obesity and obesity-related illnesses, and it is estimated that 72 million Americans could benefit from drugs like Qsymia and Belviq.

It's no wonder big business is falling over itself to get in line to benefit from the steady increase in the number of overweight people across the globe. I can't help picturing hyenas and vultures circling as the War on Obesity descends into its death throes.

Cash in on human misery! Buy your stocks now! It seems there's more money to be made from obesity than there is from trying to prevent it.

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