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Weight Loss Pill Qsymia 'Gaining Traction'

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WebMD Health News

Dec. 26, 2012 -- Sales of the prescription weight loss drug Qsymia, the first such drug to get the FDA's OK in 13 years, are increasing, despite earlier reports of sluggish interest.

For the week ending Dec. 7, more than 2,000 new prescriptions for Qsymia were filled, according to Source Healthcare Analytics, a provider of pharmaceutical market data. That compares to 1,163 filled prescriptions for the week ending Nov. 23.

Depending on who you talk to, the drug, which went on sale in mid-September, is a godsend or a disaster.

Gwen Barton, 57, of New York, participated in a Qsymia clinical trial. She dropped 50 pounds in 18 months. She gained back half of that after the trial ended, then started back on the pill in early December.

The pounds came off again. "I have lost 12 pounds so far and I'm very happy,'' she says. She wants to shed another 40 pounds on her 5-foot-5-inch frame to get to 140 pounds.

Barton offered to share her story through the public relations firm for Vivus, the maker of Qsymia.

When the FDA approved the drug earlier in 2012, Sidney Wolfe, MD, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, called the decision ''reckless.''

His opinion hasn't changed, he says. "The history of diet drugs is a disaster," he says.

Qsymia Prescriptions Up

Michael Miller, chief commercial officer at Vivus, declined to release sales figures or quote prescription numbers until January, when fourth quarter results are in.

"We are pleased," he says of sales. "We have been gaining traction."

The drug is only sold through certified mail-order pharmacies whose personnel have finished a Qsymia-provided training program.

That was part of the risk reduction that Vivus agreed to with the FDA.

Average cost of the recommended dose is $160 for a one-month supply, Miller says.

Insurance coverage is not yet common. "About 1 out of 5 prescriptions are covered," he says. "The average co-pay is $50 or $60."

How It Works

Qsymia combines two drugs already on the market: phentermine and topiramate.

Phentermine is an appetite suppressant. (It was the ''phen'' part of the popular weight loss combination pill fen-phen. After reports of lung problems and heart valve damage surfaced, related to the ''fen'' or fenfluramine, the FDA requested fenfluramine's withdrawal from market in 1997).

Topiramate may work by suppressing appetite and helping you feel full, according to the drugmaker.

Qsymia is approved only for those who have a body mass index or BMI of 30+, termed obese, or a BMI of 27+, termed overweight, with another weight-related problem such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

It is prescribed with the understanding that patients will follow a healthy, reduced-calorie diet and get regular exercise.

Barton says she walks for exercise. She drinks a lot of water and has given up fatty foods, sodas, and another old favorite, doughnuts.

Thanksgiving was not the struggle it once was. "No seconds, no thirds, I didn't bring food home," she says.

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