Bay Area-developed weight loss drug debuts


Bill Hartman is a psychologist at a San Francisco weight loss clinic, who used to be a big believer in a diet drug called Fen-Phen. It was actually two drugs combined in one pill. And in the late 90's it was outlawed when doctors discovered one of those drugs could cause heart problems.

"Before the side effects were discovered, many people benefitted, and to this day will say the best they ever did with their weight control was with the combination of Fen-Phen," Hartman said. After a billion-dollar court battle Fen-Phen was pulled from the market. Hartman says he saw the impact immediately, "It was a very depressing time. Patients dropped out of treatment. I don't mean just here, I mean all over the country. People felt they had been given something that was taken away."

But now, Hartman's eye is on a new prescription pill called Qsymia, made by Mountain View-based Vivus. Qsymia is another two-drug combination that includes phentermine, the safer of the two drugs found in Fen-Phen. It works in much the same way, and its makers say their clinical trials have shown no serious side effects.

"This is something that we've been waiting for for a long time," Hartman said. "It's why we're so excited about it."

Like its predecessor, Qsymia works by telling your brain that you're not hungry. It only works if you also change your diet and exercise, because it doesn't actually help you burn fat. What it does do is help you resist the urge to eat.

"Patients reported at Thanksgiving, for the first time, they were able to walk away from the table and not just eat all day long," said Michelle Look, the doctor who led the clinical trials. She says doctors have been prescribing Qsymia's two ingredients together for years, but the combined pill has a much lower dosage, and is designed for patients to go on it and stay on it, "We need to start thinking about obesity in a chronic way and think about keeping people on medication for a longer time."

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