The FDA approved a new weight loss drug that many doctors consider the most effective therapy in a new generation of anti-obesity pills designed to help patients safely shed pounds. Image: Associated Press The Food and Drug Administration approved a new weight loss drug from Vivus Inc. The agency cleared the pill Qsymia for adults who are obese or overweight and have at least one weight-related condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol. The drug is actually a combination of two older drugs that have long been known to help with weight loss: phentermine and topirimate. Phentermine is a stimulant that suppresses the appetite, and has long been used for short-term weight loss.

Qsymia is the second weight loss drug approved by the FDA in less than a month, following Arena Pharmaceutical’s pill Belviq in late June. The cocktail of phentermine and fenfluramine was a popular weight loss combination prescribed by doctors, though it was never approved by the FDA. The FDA’s successive approval of Qsymia and Belviq suggests a new willingness to make weight loss medications available, even in the face of lingering safety issues. The FDA initially rejected Vivus’ drug in 2010 over concerns that it can cause birth defects if taken by pregnant women.
Analysts estimate the new pill could garner more than $1 billion in sales by 2016, though Mountain View, Calif.-based Vivus Inc.

However, FDA regulators ordered the company to change the name to avoid potential confusion with similar sounding drugs. A third California drugmaker, Orexigen Therapeutics Inc., is still running clinical trials of its product, Contrave, and is working toward an FDA approval date in 2014.

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