Report examines future of obesity drugs and all that entails

Aug. 17, 2012, 11:18 a.m.

A panel of experts has released a report that weighs the considerations that come with more widespread government approval of obesity drugs. (Daniel Oines/Flickr Creative Commons)

An industry-supported panel of experts convened by The George Washington University has released a report that delves into the new world of obesity drugs and their risks, proper uses and benefits.

The report, released this week and titled "Obesity Drug Outcome Measures," reflected the consensus of the panel, which included representatives from the pharmaceutical industry, universities, public health organizations and advocacy groups.

There were also several federal representatives who observed the report-writing process but who were not asked to sign or endorse the final report.

Noting that people who are obese have few clinical options, the authors say "the need for a range of appropriate approaches to treatment" is critical. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved two obesity pills since 1999: Qsymia and Belviq.

In the report, experts note that obesity is a complicated condition that can have effects that go far beyond weight, so drugs in development ought to be viewed as obesity treatments, not weight-loss agents. They point out that the condition varies in severity and in how it manifests in a person, and suggest the agency consider evaluating a drug's risks and benefits across "several different patient profiles."

They also write that there's a "treatment gap" for people who don't fully respond to behavior changes (e.g. exercise, diet) and who aren't eligible for (or don't want to undergo) bariatric surgery, so obesity drugs ought to try to fill that gap. At the same time, they emphasize that drugs should only be available to folks who meet clinical criteria and for whom the benefits outweigh the risks.

Researchers recommended that the FDA immediately begin factoring a patient's quality of life into the drug approval process, favoring drugs that positively affect the way a patient feels, in addition to those that help with a weight problem.

Finally, as far as kids go, the panel said it's unclear what warrants "pharmacological intervention" in obese kids, but those who are severely obese should be considered for drug therapy after "more conservative" treatments have failed (and after the drug is determined to be safe). The government, in turn, they say, should create a system that can keep track of youth who have been treated with obesity drugs to assess long-term results and side-effects.

You can read the full report here.

Photo by Daniel Oines via Flickr Creative Commons.

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