Is There a Magic Pill for Weight Loss - Revisited

Dr. Jeffrey Heit Health Guide
  • About a year ago, I wrote a two part blog regarding whether or not there was a "magic pill" for people who suffer from obesity. I went down a laundry list of medications that have been approved for use to help people lose weight. Toward the end of the piece, I promised to keep readers updated about new drugs or interventions that appeared promising. There is some exciting research continuing in the obesity area. The most promising drug in at least a decade, known as rimonabant, has both raised and dashed hopes in a period of less than two years. It's an interesting story, but one that also continues, unfortunately, to prove my theory- no magic pill will ever substitute for good diet, exercise and plenty of sleep.

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    The old well known side effect of marijuana, extreme hunger, spurred interest in the cannabanoid blocking compound rimonabant. Sanofi-Aventis, the pharmaceutical company who was first to release and market the product in Europe in 2006 under the brand name Acomplia®, touted this drug as a breakthrough. Individuals who took the drug not only lost weight, but also seemed to have improvement in disorders related to their obesity like diabetes and high cholesterol. Moreover, it seemed rimonabant could be used as a smoking cessation adjunct.  The drug was to be approved for marketing in the US under the brand name Zimulti®. Expectations, not only on the part of health care providers and overweight patients but also of pharmaceutical investors, were very high. Perhaps, this was the obesity breakthrough the world was waiting for!


    Alas, like so many new drugs, once it started to be taken by much larger numbers of people than that in clinical trials, some serious side effects and questions began to emerge.  In a number of users, significant depression began to be described as well as anxiety. The numbers were significantly higher than those in the placebo group of Phase III clinical trials. The EMEA (the European equivalent of the FDA), forced Sanofi-Aventis to suspend all marketing of the drug in Europe. Sanofi-Aventis has also suspended further development of the drug. Zimulti®, the US equivalent, has yet to be approved. It is now unclear that it will ever be approved in this country or anywhere else for that matter. The company stands by the drug, and still believes that it can be of great value in the right set of patients.


    Readers of my blog know where this is leading. I do believe, in many ways, that anything of value can only be obtained with hard work. Quick fixes, short cuts, magic pills and the like, always sound promising and, let's face it, a lot more appealing. However, the harsh reality is that we are far from a good, let alone great obesity/weight loss drug. Until that day arrives, we will continue to be forced to eat better, exercise more and try to get a full night's sleep. There are worse things in life.


    Like I mentioned before- if something interesting comes down the pipeline, I'll let you know in future blogs. 

Published On: January 28, 2009