Two more obesity meds circle Rx status

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Gelesis Inc. is sinking $12 million into its obesity-reducing effort. The Boston company announced Friday it had raised the double-digit amount to be used to advance experimental therapy Gelesis 100. The latest round of fundraising brings the total pot to $42 million for what the firm describes as a “smart pill” that controls the physiological symptoms of hunger.

“This approach is so unique that it's not just ‘first-in-class,' rather it represents a whole new class of therapies that has the potential to be a game changer in our arsenal for treating overweight, obese and pre-diabetic patients,” Dr. Caroline Apovian of the Boston University School of Medicine said in a statement.

Prescription weight-loss medications have the appearance of being a hot spot, but drugs including Vivus's Qsymia and Arena's Belviq have been having a hard time gaining mindshare among doctors, patients and payers. The slow prescription uptake these drugs have experienced highlights the dissonance that can surround a product that supporters may perceive as a simple solution to a health issue and how it plays out in the marketplace.

The American Medical Association endorsed a mind shift of sorts last year when it classified obesity as a disease, a move which added a medical imprimatur to the idea that there is a lot more to being overweight than the inability or unwillingness to refuse an extra helping.

The complexity behind the condition is getting greater attention from both a medical standpoint in terms of its association with cancer, diabetes and other co-morbid conditions, as well as the food-science standpoint, as seen by efforts such as Katie Couric's “Fed Up” documentary which teases information such as whether a calorie is a calorie, or if the source of the calorie determines if the body will torch it or store it as fat.

Meanwhile, a Friday announcement by Novo Nordisk shows that new drugs aren't necessarily the only prescription solution to join the fray. The Danish drugmaker said results of a Phase-III study using its diabetes medication Victoza for weight loss showed patients taking the 3mg dose in conjunction with a diet-and-exercise regimen had an 8% weight loss compared to patients on placebo, who had a 2.6% weight loss.

The company submitted an sNDA for the new indication with the FDA in December 2013, and has also filed a similar request with the European Medicines Agency.

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