WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration has approved Arena Pharmaceutical’s anti-obesity pill Belviq, the first new prescription drug for long-term weight loss to enter the U.S. market in over a decade.
Despite only achieving modest weight loss in clinical studies, the drug appeared safe enough to win the FDA’s endorsement, amid calls from doctors for new weight-loss treatments.
The agency cleared the pill Wednesday for adults who are obese or are overweight with at least one medical complication, such as diabetes or high cholesterol. The drug should be used in combination with a healthful diet and exercise.
Obesity Society President Patrick O’Neil said he’s encouraged by the drug’s approval because it underscores the notion that lifestyle changes alone are not enough to treat obesity. “This is good news because it tells us that the FDA is indeed treating obesity seriously,” said O’Neil, who teaches at Medical University of South Carolina and was the lead researcher on several studies of Belviq. “On the other hand, it’s not the answer to the problem – or even a big part of the answer.”
Even if the effects of Belviq are subtle, experts say it could be an important first step in developing new treatments that attack the underlying causes of obesity.
“The way these things tend to work is you have some people who do extremely well and other people don’t lose any weight at all. But if we had 10 medicines that were all different and worked like this, we would have a real field,” said Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the weight loss program at Weill-Cornell Medical College.