Belviq, Qsymia: New Weight Loss Drugs Compared
July 18, 2012 — Two new prescription weight loss drugs, Belviq and Qsymia, now have the FDA’s blessing. Which, if either, is for you?
Both drugs help some people lose weight. Neither drug is for everyone. Yet the two drugs are quite different.
Here’s WebMD’s FAQ comparing Qsymia to Belviq.
How do you pronounce Qsymia? Belviq?
Vivus Pharmaceuticals says you should pronounce Qsymia this way: kyoo-sim-EE-uh. (The company’s preferred name was Qnexa, but that was nixed by FDA as sounding too much like other drugs.)
Arena Pharmaceuticals says you should pronounce Belviq this way: BEL-VEEK.
When will Belviq and Qsymia be available?
Vivus says Qsymia should be available “in the fourth quarter of 2012,” which begins in September. But don’t look for it in your local pharmacy. Because women taking Qsymia must use birth control (see below) the drug will be sold only through “certified pharmacies.” These are likely to be major online pharmacies.
Because Belviq has a potential for abuse (see below), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration must rule on how to schedule the drug. That process probably began no later than last May. As this usually takes four to six months, Belviq should become available by early 2013. A quicker DEA ruling may speed the drug’s arrival.
Why, after not approving any long-term weight-loss drug for 13 years, did the FDA approve two weight loss drugs in one month?
Until relatively recently, most medical researchers considered weight loss drugs to be vanity products. The benefit — looking better — was not considered worth very large risks. And early weight loss drugs such as fen-phen carried very large risks, indeed.
Even though both Qsymia and Belviq carry risks, FDA advisory panels thought long and hard about recommending approval. But the panels were swayed by what most members saw as the much greater risk of untreated obesity.
Do Qsymia and Belviq work the same way?
No. Qsymia and Belviq are very different drugs.
Qsymia combines two currently approved drugs. One is the appetite suppressant phentermine, the safer “phen” part of the infamously unsafe fen-phen diet drug combo.
Phentermine is thought to suppress appetite by triggering release of the brain chemical norepinephrine. This suppresses the appetite by increasing blood concentrations of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin.
The other half of Qsymia is the seizure/migraine drug topiramate. Topiramate causes weight loss in several ways, including increasing feelings of fullness, making foods taste less appealing, and increasing calorie burning.
Belviq causes weight loss by turning on a specific switch that increases levels of the brain messenger serotonin. At dosages intended for weight loss, it does not significantly turn on slightly different serotonin switches responsible for the effects of hallucinogens (such as LSD) and addictive drugs of abuse. Higher doses may trigger these switches, which is why the DEA likely will schedule Belviq as a controlled substance.