MD Anderson cancer drug kills fat quickly in monkeys, obese humans up next

Lots of people want to drop pounds rapidly, but providing pharmaceutical treatments that deliver such results has been tricky business for drug developers as the FDA cracks down on compounds that show any hint of dangerous side effects. So there's been plenty of buzz about a cancer therapy from Texas's MD Anderson Cancer Center that provided evidence that it could help obese monkeys shed weight in a matter of weeks.

Overweight monkeys who got shots of the peptide drug, adipotide, dropped a whopping 11% of their body weight on average after four weeks of daily injections of the treatment, The Wall Street Journal reported. The monkeys, whose biology is about as close to human as you can get in the animal kingdom, also got boosts in metabolic function, making the treatment a potential contender to treat diabetes as well as obesity. The product of cancer research, the peptide drug is designed to cut off the blood supply to white fat cells, which are then supposed die, leading to the loss of unwanted pounds.

Of course, these are not human data, but plans are in the works to test the experimental drug in obese patients with prostate cancer next year, according to the WSJ article, which noted that white fat releases a hormone linked to prostate cancer growth. Ablaris Therapeutics, which is part of Arrowhead Research, has licensed the drug from MD Anderson and wants to develop the peptide for obesity if the safety data from initial human tests look good. In the monkey study, the researchers found that some safety issues such as kidney lesions, the LA Times reported, so there are already some potential red flags to look for in the human experiments.

Safety questions have haunted developers of obesity drugs for years, with the FDA taking a hard line on some experimental treatments that show any hint of threatening the health of patients. Orexigen ($OREX), for example, has been slowed down in its pursuit of an approval of the weight-loss drug Contrave after U.S. regulators raised questions about potential heart risks to patients on the treatment. Nevertheless, the San Diego-based biotech and others such as Vivus remain in the hunt to get market green lights for the obesity drugs.

- check out the WSJ piece
- read the LA Times article
- and Reuters' coverage

Special Report: Obesity drugs: Where are we now?