On the Agenda

Suicide fears over weight-loss drug

In a nutshell

Government drugs watchdog the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has approved a controversial weight-loss drug for use on the NHS. Acomplia, manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis, is licensed in the UK as an adjunct to diet and exercise for the treatment of obese and overweight patients with type 2 diabetes or dyslipidaemia. It was launched in the UK in June 2006.

What's the problem?

Rimonabant, the drug's compound name, is banned in the US over fears it can heighten the risk of suicide. Since the drug was launched in Britain two years ago, 2,123 reactions have been reported to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. These included five deaths, including one from suicide. But NICE has given it the thumbs-up for NHS use if other anti-obesity drugs fail.

How serious is the obesity problem in the UK?

Government figures released in January showed that more than one million prescriptions for obesity drugs are now given out to patients.

Media coverage

The story has been picked up by most of the nationals. Many of the papers referred to Acomplia as a 'suicide pill'. The Daily Mail ran with the headline: 'Suicide fear "fat pill" gets go ahead.'

Who handles the PR for the drug?

Manning Selvage & Lee has held the account for the drug for the past three years. It has been fielding media calls since the story broke last week.

9,000 - Premature deaths per year in England due to obesity

£3.3bn - Cost of obesity to the NHS every year.

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