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New Rx Diet Drug Approval Crowds Market

Contrave, a diet drug by Orexigen, has received a recommendation for European approval. Orexigen will change the brand name of Contrave to Mysimba for marketing in Europe, once final approval is granted early next year.

The other new diet drugs, Belviq and Qsymia, have not been big sellers – considering that more than a third of U.S. adults, 78.6 million, are obese, according the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Insurers have been slow to cover the treatments, which have been priced at $200 or more a month. Manufacturers have offered discounts to encourage consumers to try them. Patients filled about 138,000 prescriptions for Qsymia in the second quarter of 2014, according to drug maker Vivus Inc. Prescription numbers for Belviq were about 110,000 in the same period, according to Arena Pharmaceuticals, which makes the drug. Belviq is marketed by Eisai Co.

Just 2% of people who are candidates for drug treatment are using a drug now, says Craig Audet, senior vice president for operations at Arena.

Orexigen lagged behind Arena and Vivus into the U.S. obesity market because the FDA initially rejected Contrave due to concerns about the potential for an increased risk of cardiovascular side effects in obese patients. This forced Orexigen to conduct a large cardiovascular safety study.

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