Obesity Drugs Take Hit; Market Potential Undaunted

The worldwide market for obesity drugs represents an extremely attractive opportunity, even more so now that Sanofi-Aventis rimonabant has failed to gain FDA approval.

A surprise to no one, the incidence of obesity and morbid obesity is on the rise, pushing an aggregate prevalence in excess of 300 million patients globally, and outpaced in growth only by the increasing attention in the popular and clinical press on obesity, its associated health care costs and the resulting need for effective solutions.

But pharmaceutical obesity treatment has to date achieved only modest monetary returns. FDA approval is currently limited to Roche Pharmaceuticals’ Xenical, (orlistat, a lipase inhibitor), Abbott Laboratories’ appetite-suppressant, Meridia (sibutramine), and generic phentermine for weight reduction. Further, sales of these have been limited by their side effects and underwhelming efficacy.

A number of new drugs are under development or have recently been launched for the treatment of overweight and obesity (see chart below, “Obesity Drug Treatment Pipeline by Major Types”). Sanofi-Aventis’ rimonabant and other drugs have thus far been major disappointments either because they have been denied approval, or because sales in approved markets have not met expectations. Nevertheless, because of the low compliance for the regimen of diet and exercise, terrific revenue potential exists and continues to be a siren song to the pharmaceutical community. If the right drug is developed, launched and granted reimbursement, and if it also lacks potentially limiting side effects, then that drug promises to be a blockbuster.

(We review obesity drug development status in the July 2007 MedMarkets.)

Tags: medtech, obesity, rimonabant

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