The race is on for weight loss pill

As America's obesity epidemic continues, biotech and pharmaceutical companies are racing to create a pill that delivers significant weight loss without the unpleasant side effect of current obesity treatments. And selling that drug could bring in some serious cash. "In the U.S., Europe and Japan, the market for weight-loss drugs totaled about $600 million in 2005, and is expected to surge globally to roughly $2 billion in 2010," notes the Associate Press.

Currently, there are several therapies on the market for obesity, including Roche's Xenical, Abbott's Meridia and GSK's OTC pill Alli. But most patients taking these drugs rarely lose more than 10 percent of their body weight. The key, experts say, is finding a drug that delivers double-digit weight loss without dangerous or uncomfortable side effects.

Roughly 30 companies are going after the obesity market. Here's a look at a few of the front-runners:

  • Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb inked a pact covering DGAT-1 inhibitors which modify lipid metabolism.
  • Orexigen Therapeutics is developing Empatic, and turned in positive Phase II results for the drug last year.
  • Merck is pinning it hopes on taranabant, which is in Phase III and could be up for FDA approval in 2008. Taranabant is in the same class of drugs as Sanofi-Aventis' Acomplia.
  • Patients taking Amylin's Byetta for diabetes have reported weight loss as a side effect, and some doctors are prescribing the drug off-label for that indication. Amylin is developing Symlin for obesity.

- see this article for more on the obesity pill race.