Experimental diet pill shows promise
Study finds fewer risks in new drug
ATLANTA — An experimental diet pill helped about half the people who tried it lose some weight and keep it off a year later, without the heart problems that some earlier drugs caused, according to a study funded by its manufacturer.
Arena Pharmaceuticals’ lorcaserin is one of three drugs that are boosting hope for a new generation of more effective weight-loss medicines. They are expected to get a Food and Drug Administration review this year, including one today.
In the study, people using lorcaserin lost at least 5 percent of their body weight at more than twice the rate achieved by those on dummy pills.
Most people don’t stick to diets. And diet pills have had bad side effects or should not be taken long-term. A low point came in 1997, when the popular “fen-phen’’ was pulled from the market after it was tied to heart valve problems.
Lorcaserin, a round blue tablet, could be the first truly novel weight-loss pill in a dozen years if it wins approval. The drug targets the same appetite pathway fen-phen did but in a more selective, and perhaps safer, manner.
Results of the study, which involved 3,100 obese or overweight people, are in today’s New England Journal of Medicine.
After a year, nearly 48 percent of the lorcaserin group had lost at least 5 percent of their body weight — about 13 pounds on average. Just 20 percent of the placebo group lost that much weight. Only about half of those in the study stuck with it a year. That’s not unusual; diet studies typically have lots of dropouts. But more of the people on lorcaserin stayed in than those on placebo, suggesting that side effects were not a problem.
Unlike some other obesity drugs, lorcaserin did not raise heart rates or blood pressure. In fact, cholesterol levels and other risk factors for heart disease improved in those on the drug.