There are high hopes today that the US authorities are on the verge of authorising widescale use of an anti-obesity drug known as Qnexa. This is the first anti-obesity drug to be approved for further testing by the FDA in more than a decade and when you bear in mind the millions upon millions of people around the world who struggle with weight issues it could be something of a major breakthrough.
What is Qnexa?
Qnexa is an anti-obesity drug which suppresses the appetite of the user to such a degree that significant weight loss is achieved over a prolonged period of time. Initial reports suggest that 10% of those patients who used the drug over a year lost a significant amount of weight. While this 10% figure may seem relatively low it is actually the highest reduction reported with any recent diet pill to hit the market.
As a consequence there are now high hopes that further trials will confirm these findings and indeed the company behind Qnexa, Vivus, will indeed be able to adjust and tweak the workings of the treatment to increase its effectiveness.
Why is weight loss so difficult?
The very fact that millions upon millions of people around the world suffer from obesity has made them easy targets for the con artists and the fraudsters over the years. We have seen hundreds and hundreds of so-called “amazing diet pills” hitting the market only to find they are fraudulent and in many cases dangerous.
The simple reason why it is often very difficult to lose weight on a long-term basis is the fact that the body is programmed to retain more energy and more fat the less food we eat. So while effectively cutting off the food supply to the body would in normal circumstances lead to significant weight loss, the way in which our bodies have been programmed for hundreds of years means that this is not the case. This is why some people who reduce their calorie intake significantly in a very short space of time will indeed often experienced little or no weight loss.
Why have the authorities been so reluctant to authorise diet pills?
As we touched on above, there have been some very dubious diet pills hitting the market, both officially and unofficially, over the last 50 years or so. Even Qnexa was initially rejected by the FDA in relation to potential heart palpitations and issues with pregnant women. However, it does seem as though the FDA is now happy that Qnexa can move to wider trials which could pre-empt a possible introduction to the wider market in the medium term.
If you look back in history in relation to diet pills there are many companies who have had their fingers burnt due to unforeseen side-effects. There have been billions upon billions of dollars paid out in compensation to those who have suffered major medical side effects from previous diet pills which had initially appeared to be relatively harmless. So the FDA has taken an ultra-cautious approach and while the US authorities are very keen to find a cure for obesity it will be a very slow burning process.
How much does obesity cost the worldwide economy?
Obesity is by far and away the largest cost to health, employment, taxes, benefits and social services. When you bear in mind the amount of money spent on those suffering side-effects associated with obesity for example the national health in the United Kingdom, the ability to take a tablet which will affect your weight in the short to medium term would be a godsend for everybody involved. This will allow public investment which has until now been targeted at weight issues to be redistributed elsewhere for the good of everybody.
Over the years we have seen numerous governments around the world looking to introduce so-called “fat taxes” to try and tackle the problem of obesity. It is difficult to put a figure on exactly how much obesity does cost the worldwide economy but it is literally hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
Are there any more new diet drugs in the pipeline?
While Qnexa is the only diet drug to receive FDA approval over the last decade there are a number of other potential treatments in the pipeline. So far these have not yet been approved by the FDA and therefore they cannot move towards larger scale trials which will ultimately decide whether they are feasible. However, it does show that the diet pill industry is still one of the major areas of the world wide economy and for many companies it is the Holy Grail.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has such a reputation around the world that if the US authorities do actually clear Qnexa for distribution in the US this will effectively mean worldwide approval. Many countries around the world will automatically approve such treatments if approved by the FDA having gone through rigourous testing and trials.
Should diet drugs be available on the NHS?
While there is no doubt that dietary issues and obesity have a major impact on everyday standards of living for many people, the issue of supplying diet drugs on the NHS is a tricky one. So far there have been very few, if any, diet drugs which have been deemed safe by the authorities therefore this has not been an issue up until now. However, if Qnexa is cleared by the FDA and ultimately cleared by the UK authorities then the health authorities will have to consider whether the drug should be made available on the NHS.
Even though many people will be reluctant to fund diet pills on the NHS the truth is that the money invested into obesity and weight problems will attract a return far in excess of the money spent in the longer term. Mental problems, physical problems, income problems, relationship problems and a whole host of other issues can be traced back and linked to obesity. However, whether the authorities will be open to the idea of funding Qnexa from the taxpayer purse remains to be seen.