'Fat war' scramble to develop wonder pill to fight obesity

Market for dieting drugs could soon be worth £2bn a year
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Indy Lifestyle Online

A "fat war" has broken out among pharmaceutical companies as makers scramble for the rich pickings from a market soon to be worth more than £2bn a year.

A "fat war" has broken out among pharmaceutical companies as makers scramble for the rich pickings from a market soon to be worth more than £2bn a year.

A record 25 new drugs are under trial on humans to help Britain's 7.5 million obese lose weight.

There are pills and potions that block fat consumption, or burn what fat is eaten; hormones that trick the brain into believing the stomach is full; brain transmitters that turn off appetite; and muscle-fat eaters.

In the UK, the cost to the NHS of treating the effects of obesity is estimated at around £750m a year. It is linked to more than 30 diseases, from cancer to heart problems, as well as premature death.

Analysts predict that by 2006 the world obesity drug market will be worth £2bn.

Also in the pipeline are drugs that work on the central and peripheral nervous systems, chemicals that act on the pancreas and the release of insulin, glucose controllers, thyroid hormones and a range of synthetic brain chemicals.

Genetically engineered compounds will target some of the common mutations that are associated with severe obesity.

There are also drugs based on natural products as diverse as shark tissue, leaves from South African plants and material from the mahogany tree in pre-clinical trials in the laboratory.

One drug in development is not only aimed at obesity, but also reduces the urge to smoke. It works by blocking the circuits in the brain that control the urge to eat and smoke.

In one trial, the drug helped adults to shed an average of 20 pounds in 12 months. In another, participants were found to be twice as likely to give up smoking. Almost half of those taking part lost 10 per cent of their body weight and cut down on smoking. Scientists believe it may work to reduce alcohol consumption, too.

"We think this might be the ideal compound for people who are overweight and smoke," says Dr Robert Anthenelli, of the University of Cincinnati, who directed the smoking arm of the study.

Trials in the UK of a once-a-week appetite-controlling hormone injection showed that those who had the treatment ate only 1,810 calories a day, compared with the 2,500 of those given a dummy therapy.

Only two drugs, orlistat and sibutramine, are specifically licensed for obesity control in the UK. However, the latest clinical trial data show that at least 25 new compounds are in development around the world, and that almost all the big pharmaceutical companies have several potential products in the pipeline.

"There is great market potential for novel drug classes to treat patients who are unresponsive or unsuitable for current drugs," says Rachel Loui of the life-science market analyst Front Line.

Analysts predict that most of the new wave of drugs will hit the market between now and 2007, when the number of obese people worldwide is expected to pass 400 million for the first time.

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