After being virtually chased from the obesity drug market by side effect concerns, drug companies are taking baby steps back toward the field after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the nod to two new obesity drugs, Belviq and Qsymia. It was a clear signal from the FDA that it would be more willing to seriously consider drugs as a viable way to treat some forms of obesity, which it calls a “major public health concern.”
But the major pharmaceutical companies are still mostly gun-shy when it comes to obesity drugs, leaving the field open for smaller pharmaceutical companies to capitalize on this unexpected serendipity.
“It’s been the small companies that were willing to take the risks,” said Mike King, an analyst with Rodman & Renshaw. “The approvals this year may draw some interest from larger drugmakers. Obesity is one of the last kind of monolithic markets that’s out there right now. Given the numbers, you have to expect that these would be blockbuster drugs.”
The approval of Belviq and Qsymia was an uphill battle. They were both rejected by the FDA in 2010, Belviq for concerns over cancer links and Qsymia for worries about birth defects and heart risks. They were cleared this year on the condition the companies perform post-marketing studies to monitor safety.
Now that the door is open, will smaller drug companies maintain the advantage? Some of them have a 13-year head start on their bigger counterparts, but obviously lack the correspondingly vast resources. With billions in revenue up for grabs, the battle will surely only heat up from here.