New Diet Drug Called Safe and Effective in Study

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The results of a two-year study of a new weight loss drug, published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine, show that lorcaserin aids in weight loss and is safer than many other diet drugs.

Nearly 50 percent of the participants in the study of more than 3,000 obese or overweight adults, lost at least five percent of their body weight, compared with only 20 percent who took a placebo.

One in five of the dieters shed at least 10 percent of their body weight and those who stayed on the drug for two years maintained their weight loss. Lorcaserin works on the serotonin receptor, a hormone that controls appetite.

Although the weight loss was not extreme, lorcaserin does not appear to have any of the troubling side effects associated with previous diet drugs. In a commentary accompanying the study, Dr. Arne Astrup, an obesity expert at the University of Copenhagen noted that lorcaserin produced small improvements in blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol and insulin resistance.

Weight loss drugs have been associated more with problematic side effects than with reducing weight in recent years. The popular treatment fenfluramine, known as fen-phen, was taken off the market in 1997 after being linked to potentially life-threatening heart valve problems.

The Food and Drug Administration is now evaluating the risks associated with sibutramine (Meridia), which is on the market, because it may be unsafe for people with heart problems. Only one other drug, orlistat (Xenical) is on the market.

Given that about two-thirds of American adults are considered either overweight or obese, a safe weightloss aid is a potential blockbuster new drug. San Diego-based Arena Pharmaceuticals, funded the study that was headed by Dr. Steven R. Smith, director of the Florida Hospital Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes and Dr. Neil J. Weissman, a medical professor at Georgetown University.

The company is currently seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration for lorcaserin. A decision is expected later this year.