Losing Weight: Let GlaxoSmithKline Compete!

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  • 01/20/2006

The Wall Street Journal reports that an FDA reviewer has recommended against GlaxoSmithKline’s being allowed to sell its weight-loss drug, Xenical™, over-the-counter. The company wants to sell a less potent version of the prescription medicine. According to the reviewer, the resulting weight loss would be modest and “transient”. That is, “it would not afford any long-term benefit through a change in behavior….”. The drug also benefits blood pressure, lipids, and fasting glucose (according to the FDA).

I’m no scientist, but if the FDA is not going to allow a drug maker to sell an OTC obesity med until they identify a drug that can change people’s behavior, or reduce weight with zero chance of putting it on again, Americans will never have the range of choices they need to deal with their growing waistlines.

GlaxoSmithKline understands this. It plans to call the drug “Alli™”, as in, “allied” with diet and exercise. The marketing campaign will undoubtedly encourage people to use the drug along with lifestyle changes. What good would it do the company for people to take the pill, but not lose weight because they do not exercise or eat better? They will stop taking the pill and badmouth it to their friends.

The marketing campaign would surely also be more effective than government programs to combat obesity (as my colleague, Diana Ernst has addressed). Meanwhile, Americans have a plethora of dietary and herbal supplements targetted at obesity, but no OTC medical option.

Here is a better option: let the FDA recommend against OTC Alli™, but allow GlaxoSmithKline to sell it, including the FDA’s negative recommendation on the label. Then, let the patients decide.


Ernst, D. 2005. Obesity and the State: The Skinny on the War Against Fat, December (Health Policy Prescriptions). San Francisco, CA: Pacific Research Institute.

Dooren, J.C. 2006. “FDA Questions the Benefits of Over-the-Counter Xenical,” Wall Street Journal, January 20.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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