It could be the next big pharmaceutical blockbuster and a study out today shows promising results for Rimonabant, a new anti-obesity pill that works on the same biological triggers that give marijuana smokers the munchies.
The study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports a "modest but sustained" drop in poundage for overweight people on the medicine, and few side effects.
But there is also skepticism among experts about whether another pill can effectively combat the Western world's growing epidemic of fat -- or whether it will divert patients from the lifestyle changes they must make.
"I think that's a big danger -- you have this magic bullet, or what you think is a magic bullet. You've got this solution and you forget everything else," said Dr. Baiju Shah, an endocrinologist with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, reports National Post.
According to Reuters, the drug is awaiting an approval decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However there has been speculation that it could become the world's first blockbuster anti-obesity medicine, with analysts estimating sales topping $3 billion a year.
Tuesday's report, carried in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was based on a study involving more than 3,000 patients that began in 2001 and also involved diet and exercise changes. The basic findings were released at an American Heart Association meeting in late 2004.
The final study said the drug plus diet and exercise "promoted modest but sustained reductions in weight and waist circumference and favorable changes in cardiometabolic risk factors" such as cholesterol and triglycerides.
Up to 48 percent of the patients in the study saw a weight loss of 5 percent or more after one year, depending on the dose of the drug.
In addition, the report said, the favorable changes in cholesterol and triglycerides "appeared to be approximately twice that expected from weight loss alone," suggesting the drug may have some direct impact on fat metabolism beyond that caused by slimming down.