Obesity drug Qsymia, which is manufactured by California pharmaceutical company Vivus, has been cleared for consumption by the masses. This marks the second weight-loss drug to get the stamp of approval from the Food and Drug Administration in just under two months. Although the pills are supposed to be an effective way for people to shed pounds, some doctors have instructed their patients to play the waiting game before offering up prescriptions.
“I’ll probably take a wait-and-see attitude myself,” explained Greg Anderson, an assistant professor of family medicine at the Mayo Clinic. “The track record has not been particularly good for diet medications.” Although some doctors have expressed similar concerns regarding the Qsymia and its like-minded cohort, Belviq, some physicians believe these medications can help people get started by providing immediate results.
“Once the patient has learned how to control the appetite and has lost a good amount of weight, she or he is stimulated to continue to lose weight without the medications,” said Dr. Albert Levy, who is an assistant professor of medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Qsymia, which is a combination of phentermine and the anti-seizure drug topiramate, is designed specifically to help obese and overweight patients lose a few pounds while they attempt to get other aspects of their lifestyle under control. However, some physicians are wary of the pills as they contain some potentially serious side effects. In addition to increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, Qsymia has been known to cause birth defects. The FDA rejected the pill two years ago for these very reasons, and it currently remains unclear as to why, exactly, they’ve decided to approve the drug considering the potential risks are still present.
Dr. Patrick O’Neil, president of The Obesity Society, feels the approval is good news for those struggling to lose weight. “By approving another medication that will help healthcare professionals treat this disease more effectively, the FDA continues to show us that they are treating obesity seriously,” he explained. “Since obesity can arise from many causes, no single medication will work for everyone. This is a great step in the right direction, but, we must maintain our focus of developing even more treatments that are safe, effective, and accessible.”
Since there is money to made with these products — analysts estimate sales of Belviq and Qsymia will bring in around $1 billion per year — it’s not surprisingly that investors are getting behind the pills. However, Qsymia will only be available through certain pharmacies under a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy, which is put in place to inform doctors and patients of the drug’s potential side effects. For some, this is the equivalent of putting the cart before the horse.
“Such a study may very well result in preventable mortality and morbidity, a high price to pay in exchange for a few pounds of flesh,” explained Marvin Lipman, M.D., chief medical adviser for Consumer Reports.