The field of big drug makers racing to produce an effective weight-loss drug not only is narrowing, it’s almost drying up.
In the last month alone, the Food and Drug Administration has rejected approval for two new drugs and forced the withdrawal of a third that had been on the market for more than a decade. And in the last few years, several of the pharmaceutical industry’s biggest names — including Abbott Laboratories, Merck & Co. and Sanofi-Aventis — have tried and failed to take anti-obesity and weight-loss drugs to market. The F.D.A. hasn’t approved a prescription diet pill since 1999, when it gave a nod to Roche’s Xenical, now the only weight-management drug approved for long-term use.
The F.D.A. hasn’t acted without its reasons — but experts say pharmaceutical companies are increasingly discouraged from working on drugs for obesity, one of the nation’s biggest health problems. One-third of Americans are obese, and another third are overweight — conditions that lead to cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
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