Old Meets New

New Growth in Obesity Treatment Options

ObesityWeek 2014 BostonSigns of new growth in obesity treatment options are appearing at ObesityWeek 2014 in Boston this week. Novo Nordisk presented a sweeping scope of results on Tuesday from clinical trials with its drug, liraglutide, which is awaiting final approval from FDA. Researchers are presenting new data for other obesity treatments — lorcaserin, bupropion/naltrexone, and phenteramine/topiramate — that fill in the picture of risks and benefits for these products.

The data presented on Tuesday for liraglutide was characterized by industry analyst Damian Guarde as a “blockbuster case” for the safety and efficacy of liraglutide in treating obesity. The use of the B-word, gives us pause, because much will have to happen before any obesity treatments become blockbusters.

The scope and thoroughness of the clinical studies for liraglutide — both completed and ongoing — is indeed impressive. Researchers showed that more than 90% of people who took liraglutide actually did lose weight and that the weight loss for folks who completed the studies was 9.2%. They also showed a significant improvement in quality life because people receiving the drug saw an improvement in their ability to function physically.

But it’s important to remember that these treatments are far from ideal. Dropout rates from clinical trials for obesity drugs are significant. Liraglutide is no exception. Approximately 30% of subjects in Phase III trials did not complete the studies for one reason or another. And the efficacy — while offering meaningful improvements in health and quality of life — is far from total relief from the disease of obesity. Surgical treatment of obesity is the only option that can come close to that promise, and the relief comes with significant costs — both financial and a toll of undesired effects.

At the end of the day, progress is encouraging. New reports on the utilization of lorcaserin suggests that more and more patients are benefiting. Sales are “creeping upward” and the “historically low use of obesity treatments has come to an end.”

A comment at the Obesity Action Coalition’s Your Weight Matters event on Sunday explains why this change is important. A person affected by obesity asked Robert Kushner, Chair of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, how long doctors should wait before prescribing obesity treatment. He replied:

Why should a doctor wait to treat a condition with such important health effects? If a doctor saw a patient with diabetes or hypertension, would the question be how long should we wait before we treat it? Obviously not.

Click here and here to read more about the data presented on liraglutide at ObesityWeek. Click here to read more about signs of growth in the use of obesity treatment.

Old Meets New, photograph © arbyreed / flickr

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