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Investors clearly favor Vivus in the three-way race. Shares of Vivus have nearly doubled over the past year to close Friday at $11.52.
Arena Pharmaceuticals shares have fallen nearly 4 percent over the past year on lackluster results for its drug. Orexigen shares have fallen 21 percent over the past year, to close Friday at $4.17, marking a bouncy descent from a June 2007 peak of $17.70 a share.
Decision Resources, a drug industry analysis firm, believes all three drugs could eventually win approval and find a place in the global obesity market. The firm expects the global market to soar from $500 million to $3.4 billion a year by 2018.
Still, the history of diet drugs is littered with stumbling blocks.
The diet drug fenfluramine, which was half of the fen-phen combination, was withdrawn in 1997 after it was linked with heart damage. The drug's combination with phentermine was popular but never approved by FDA.
Two years ago Sanofi-Aventis SA discontinued studies of its highly anticipated pill Acomplia due to psychiatric side effects, including depression and suicidal thoughts.
Side effects have kept the small number of weight-loss drugs currently on the market from being blockbuster sellers. Abbott Laboratories' appetite suppressant Meridia was pulled from the market in Europe last November due to data showing increased heart attack risks. And in May, the FDA warned consumers that the over-the-counter weight loss pill alli, which has been sold for years at a higher dose as the prescription drug Xenical, could cause severe liver damage. The drug works by limiting the amount of fat the body can absorb.
Derek Lowe, a pharmaceutical researcher and blogger, says the new combination drugs under review hold promise because they work on multiple brain chemicals that drive overeating.
"No single agent is going to shut down this behavior," said Lowe, whose blog "In the Pipeline" focuses on drug development. "But if you can come in and hit two or more of these different pathways at the same time, maybe then you'll get somewhere."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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