After almost a decade, the FDA has once again started approving obesity drugs. VIVUS, Inc. (NASDAQ:VVUS)’s Qysmia and Arena Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:ARNA)’s Belviq have received FDA approval and are already available in the market. Belviq has just received DEA clearance and is a late entrant into the market, though the drug is regarded as the safer option and is readily available from local pharmacies. Orexigen Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ:OREX)’s Contrave is undergoing an extensive cardiovascular trial. The results of this trial will decide if Contrave will even get to the market.
Qsymia has very stringent distribution restrictions from the FDA due to its side effects. There has been much talk on the efficacy of both it and Belviq. It is a fact that Qsymia is the most effective (purely in terms of percentage weight loss) obesity drug currently available. During trials, Belviq caused an average weight loss of 13 pounds, while Qsymia reduced an average 23 pounds. However, recent research has shown that the average weight calculations were misleading, and these findings can change the entire obesity drug industry.
Real weight loss
A recent study indicates that the weight loss potential of Belviq is strongly misinterpreted. The drug doesn’t impact approximately 50% of patients at all. The clinical trials of Belviq revealed a 5.8% weight loss for a 52 week treatment and a 2.5% weight loss by taking placebos. However, if the 50% ‘non-responders’ are not taken into account, the weight loss potential of Belviq is double for the responders, i.e. 10% body weight.
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This is an enormous leap in terms of efficacy and can make Belviq a big success with ‘responders.’ The responders are obese patients with ‘hunger’ as the primary reason behind their obesity. As the drug works by reducing this ‘hunger,’ it is only effective on these hunger driven obese patients. This is an oversimplified classification, practically it is not that easily to differentiate ‘responders’ and ‘non-responders.’ The difference between responders and non-responders can only be identified through a monitoring of patients on Belviq over many months.
The market perceives this data as a win for the obese patients and Arena shareholders. A higher efficacy of Belviq would make it possible for obese patients to ‘safely’ lose more weight. However, the patients who do not respond to Belviq will have no other choice but to look for alternative. The only alternative on the market is Qsymia. These 50% non-respondents can also result in a lot of negative marketing for Belviq. Therefore, the biggest winner is none other than VIVUS, Inc. (NASDAQ:VVUS).