London, Aug. 30: A once-a-day pill that helps people to lose weight and stop smoking could be available within two years, scientists said yesterday.
The drug, rimonabant, works on a newly-discovered system in the brain which is involved in motivation and control of appetite as well as the urge to smoke. Latest results of a year-long study, issued at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Munich yesterday, show that 40 to 45 per cent of overweight and obese people in the trial lost 10 per cent of their weight.
The drug also reduced harmful blood fats and the metabolic syndrome which leads to diabetes. Being overweight, smoking and diabetes are all factors in heart disease.
The drug, which will be sold under the trade name Acomplia, works on the endocannabinoid system in the brain, which researchers believe plays a vital role in how the body regulates appetite.
That line of research began when scientists noted that people who smoked cannabis often experienced sharp increases in appetite.
The researchers found that when the endocannabinoid system was over-activated, appetite and the desire to smoke increased. Eating too much stimulated that reaction, which in turn increased the body’s desire to eat more.
The drug blocks receptors in the endocannabinoid system, working both on cells in the brain and on fat cells.
It appears to restore balance in the body, reducing the need to go on eating when the body is already nourished.
The results from the European study of 1,500 people found that those on a 20mg dose lost 6.6 kilos in a year; those on 5mg lost 3.4 kilos; and those on a placebo lost 1.8 kilos. All the people in the trial followed a diet reducing their calories by 600 a day and were advised to take exercise.
Across the world, 13,000 people are involved in seven rimonabant trials which are looking at its effect on weight, smoking and diabetes.
Dr Nick Finer, an honorary consultant in obesity medicine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, is the leading researcher in the diabetes trial and a member of the international steering committee on rimonabant.
“I do not think this drug will be some kind of short-term fix, the type of thing you do before you go on holiday,” he said. “It is like cholesterol and blood pressure pills; it is the kind of drug that people might be taking long-term.”