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November 6, 2008
CB-1 Obesity Drugs: Farewell to the Whole Lot
The painful saga of Acomplia (rimonabant) has finally come to an end. Sanofi-Aventis has announced that they're completely giving up on the drug. There was really no other option - the compound was never approved in the US, and was never going to be, and late in October the EU ordered it to be withdrawn from Europe. The psychiatric side effects which sank the drug's chances here were showing up in real-world use, and the risk/benefit ratio could no longer be seen as anything but negative.
And Pfizer has just announced that they're giving up work on their own Phase III compound in the area, CP-945,598. They're not citing safety concerns - and as Jim Edwards over at Bnet notes, that puts them in the odd position of saying that they have a safe, effective drug for a huge market that they're not going to do anything with. My guess is that the company is worried that the drug would indeed show an unfavorable safety profile, especially under the sort of scrutiny that any drug in this class would have by now, and that they decided to stop before things got to that point. Otherwise, you'd think that a big, safe, effective first-in-class obesity therapy would be just what Pfizer needs - wouldn't you?
So, goodbye to the CB-1 antagonists. I don't see much work going on in this area for some time to come, unless the pharmacology gets untangled to the point that someone can see a safe way through. There may well not be one.
And before we all try to forget that this all happened, let's spare a thought for the huge amounts of time, effort, brainpower and money that went into this area over the last eight or ten years. Three of the biggest research organizations in the industry have now flamed out trying to develop these drugs, and plenty of smaller players were trying, too, as a glance at the patent literature will make clear. The end result is that we have paid a gigantic amount of money to learn that the biology is more complicated than we thought, and it needed no ghost come from the grave to tell us this. If you think that drug development is a sure road to riches - if anyone still thinks that - then come survey this wreckage and think again.
And to finish, let's hop in the time machine and go back. . .well, not all that far. Just to mid-2006. There we find a world in which rimonabant was poised to become one of the biggest selling drugs in all the world, part of a wave of drugs which would transform the industry and spew profits in all directions. Billions of dollars in revenues are mentioned. Oh, dear.
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