VIVUS, Weight Loss, and the Patient Investor
Jordo is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
Right from the outset, a child is exposed to a number of body image ideals that establishes the fact that our society places a lot of importance on the way we look. Though naysayers dismiss the importance of one's looks and physical appearance, we all know it way to well that our physical appearance is responsible to some extent for the way we are treated by people around us. With that in mind, the sensitive issue of being overweight always comes into picture. What one needs to understand is the difference between obesity that is linked with lifestyle patterns and obesity that is linked to medical or genetic causes.
In either case, the overweight individual experiences an immense pressure from within and from friends and family to reduce weight either for aesthetic or medical reasons. Either ways, being proactive about losing weight is always a good idea. However, the route to losing weight is what bothers most people. Dietary changes and regular exercise are extremely crucial in the reduction of weight and maintaining a healthy body. Moreover, lifestyle changes can impact a person's quest to losing weight as well. The most controversial of all weight-loss approaches is pharmacotherapy.
It is controversial because many people misuse weight loss drugs and still many others take the wrong ones, when they may actually require just lifestyle management techniques including dietary changes and an active lifestyle. It is rather difficult to pinpoint and declare who would benefit the most from weight loss drugs. Most physicians agree that those who are morbidly obese and those who are at risk of severe health problems due to their obesity require weight loss medications.
If we were to consider pharmacological agents that reduce or control weight, we would have to wade through murky waters. FDA has approved only orlistat (Xenical) for long-term use. By inhibiting pancreatic lipase, it reduces the absorption of fat in the intestine.GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) sells Orlistat as Alli in the U.S. and the U.K. whereas Roche Holding AG (RHHBY.PK) sells it as Xenical in other countries.
There are also generics of orlistat available in Russia and India. It has a risk of liver injury, but the documented cases are few and far between. Sibutramine is an appetite suppressant that helps by quelling pangs of hunger. It was marketed by Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) until it was withdrawn from the market due to cardiovascular events and strokes. This drug is similar to Rimonabant, which was withdrawn from the market by Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE: SNY) back in 2009 due to several risk factors.
Amylin Pharmaceuticals' (NASDAQ: AMLN) Exenatide is used to treat diabetes but is sometimes used as a weight loss drug as well. However, it is recommended only for those who have Type 2 Diabetes. Amylin's other diabetes drug pramlintide is currently being tested as a treatment for obesity among those who do not have diabetes. Green tea extract, raspberry ketone and other herbal extracts have been used to treat obesity with varying degrees of success. Nonetheless, we must bear in mind that weight loss drugs and treatments by major pharmaceutical companies are very few.
Of the newer drugs that are being investigated, I am particularly impressed with Vivus' (NASDAQ: VVUS) Qnexa, which is a combination of the drugs phentermine and topiramate. Phentermine is known to suppress appetite, while topiramate is used as an anticonvulsant but causes weight loss as a side effect. FDA voted to recommend Qnexa as an obesity treatment option in February 2012. Final approval will happen sometime later in 2012. This is certainly going to drive Vivus' stock up the mark and seems to be a very promising drug to help people lose weight.
We must also consider pTeroPure™ pterostilbene, which is a pure form of trans-pterostilbene found in fruits and the bark of certain trees. Pterostilbene is known to have health properties similar to red wine, as it contains resveratrol. In fact, the company that developed the ingredient, ChromaDex (CDXC.OB) won the 2010 North American Frost & Sullivan Award for Most Promising Ingredient of the Year. pTeroPure pterostilbene is expected to be used in the treatment of cancer, blood pressure, diabetes, stress and anti-ageing. It is also expected to be a great weight loss drug but that is something that will have to be observed through the next few months.
Apart from Vivus' Qnexa and ChromaDex's pterostilbene, we only have orlistat as an FDA approved treatment for obesity. Weight loss treatment with the assistance of drugs may be controversial, but is likely to be far more effective than many adjunct therapies that are commonly believed to be good options.
My only worry is that those who are anorexic or bulimic would end up using drugs to further lose weight, when they are already at risk of severe malnutrition. Moreover, weight loss drugs may interact with existing medical conditions, and should always be used under the supervision of a physician. It would be interesting how newer drugs would be rated and what the empirical evidence is going to be like. At the moment, Vivus' Qnexa and ChromaDex's pterostilbene are the only promising drugs that may hold the key to future weight loss treatment options. Weight loss treatments will never replace conventional treatment options such as dieting and regular exercise.
Physicians, nutritionists and fitness instructors should make sure that their patients or clients are following weight loss instructions strictly and not doing anything on their own, like self-medicating for instance. Until FDA clears the drugs developed by Vivus and ChromaDex, I would wait patiently. Vivus' stock is doing pretty well, and if stock were to be seen as an indicator of a company's future success, we might as well believe that its new weight loss drug will be approved finally sometime later this year.
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