At a glance: Actelion readies new obesity pill wannabe

What’s the story? Swiss biotech firm Actelion is creating a pill, called orexin-RA-1, that could be used in the fight against obesity.

How does it work?
This new drug is actually a sleeping pill, but it targets the orexin hormone, which is associated with feeding and addiction. Blocking orexin can reduce the desire to eat, which means it could be used in treating obesity as well as sleep deprivation.

So has Actelion launched a PR campaign for the drug?
You'd think so, given the headline in Metro this Monday: 'The new sleeping pill that may fight obesity.' But the story first appeared in science and commerce journal Chemistry & Industry, which was this week promoting its scoop by press release. Questions about the drug are being fielded by media relations head Peter Engel at Actelion's HQ in Switzerland.

Is Packer Forbes Communications also on board?
The healthcare agency handles global campaigns for Actelion products, including its brain haemorrhage drug Clazosentan (PRWeek, 11 November 2005). But there is no word yet on whether Packer Forbes will be involved with orexin-RA-1.

Is that because a launch is years away?
Indeed. More data is expected from phase-2 trials later in the year. It could be on the market by 2012, so Actelion is likely to be looking for a marketing partner in the next few years.

What's currently on the market?
The two main drugs are Roche's Xenical (orlistat) and Abbott's Reductil (sibutramine), while Sanofi-Aventis's Acomplia (rimonabant) is about to launch. Merck & Co, Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb are all believed to be developing their own anti-obesity drugs.

What's the scale of the obesity problem?
In the UK, the Department for Work and Pensions has paid out £40m in benefits over the past five years for people who are overweight.  The World Health Organisation claims more than one billion people
in the world are overweight – 300 million of whom are obese – and are therefore at risk of heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and even ovarian cancer.

And is there a silver bullet for obesity?
Alas, no. Pills have been shown to reduce weight, but changes to lifestyle – such as low-fat diets and more exercise  – are likely to make more of an impact.

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