Obesity medications still a hard sell

Greater FDA scrutiny over the safety of the newest prescription weight-loss medications has not been enough to prompt doctors to immediately prescribe them, but The Wall Street Journal reported that some doctors and their patients appear to be getting more comfortable with prescribing and taking the medications.

A physician at Duke University's Diet and Fitness Center told the Journal that his plan was to hold off on prescribing the new obesity medications until they had been on the market for at least a year—a time frame he thought was long enough to allow safety issues to surface.

Safety problems with previous prescription weight-loss medications continue to haunt the category, including fen-phen's link to heart valve damage. That drug was pulled from the market in the late '90s over safety concerns. But more entrants are coming, including Novo Nordisk's Saxenda, which is due out this year. Saxenda is new to the obesity space, but it is not completely new in that it is a higher dose of liraglutide, which is established in the diabetes space as the drug Victoza. This is different than Vivus's Qsymia, Arena's Belviq and Orexigen's Contrave, all of which were new to the market and approved by the FDA between 2012 and 2014.

Building sales momentum for a weight-loss drug also requires manufacturers and physicians to address high prescription prices and provide support like exercise regimens and in-person nutritional support, things a pill cannot address, as noted in an MM&M story that was published earlier this month.