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New Weight-Loss Drug Shows Promise in Early Study
Date:1/8/2008

But adverse effects include gastrointestinal problems, anxiety

TUESDAY, Jan. 8 (HealthDay News) -- An experimental weight-loss drug helped people shed pounds, but its adverse effects included gastrointestinal distress and psychiatric problems, scientists report.

Called taranabant, the drug was developed by Merck Research Laboratories, which funded the new research published in the January issue of Cell Metabolism.

"It suppresses food intake and increases your metabolism," explained Dr. Steven Heymsfield, global director of scientific affairs, obesity, for Merck Research.

The drug works by blocking the same pleasure centers in the brain that are triggered when marijuana smokers get hungry. Blocking these cannabinoid receptors reduces hunger and helps people lose weight, the researchers said.

Taranabant is in the same class of drugs as rimonabant (Acomplia), which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved due to concerns about the risk of suicidal thoughts among some users. Rimonabant is on the market in Europe, however.

In the new study on taranabant, "no suicidal thoughts were reported," Heymsfield said. But the question was not asked, he added, in a systemic way. For a larger, upcoming trial, it will be, he noted.

In this latest study, Heymsfield's team assigned 533 obese patients to receive either a placebo or one of four taranabant doses: 0.5, 2, 4 or 6 milligrams daily. A total of 358 patients finished the 12-week study.

While the placebo group lost about 2.6 pounds during the study, the 6-milligram taranabant group lost the most.

"Those who took the 6-milligram dose every day for 12 weeks lost about 11 pounds," Heymsfield said. They also followed a reduced-calorie eating plan but had no specific exercise plan.

In a separate study reported by the same group of scientists in the journal, the researchers gave 36 overweight or obe
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