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Diet drug Belviq pulled from shelves for possible link to cancer risk

Posted March 11, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

Weight-loss drug Belviq has been voluntarily pulled from the market by the manufacturer per FDA recommendations. The drug has been identified for its possible increased cancer risk. (Photo Courtesy of Eisai Inc.)

This article was written for our sponsor, Whitley Law Firm.

A weight loss drug has been pulled from the market at the urging of the United States Food and Drug Administration for its possible link to increased cancer risk.

Earlier this year, the FDA urged Eisai Inc., a Japanese manufacturer of the weight loss drug in question, Belviq, to voluntarily withdraw it from the U.S. market "because a safety clinical trial shows an increased occurrence of cancer."

Eisai submitted the request to do so, but said in a statement that it does not agree with the FDA's interpretation of data on the drug's safety and believes "Belviq continues to have a positive benefit-risk profile," meaning that the company thinks the benefits outweigh the risks.

Belviq and Belviq XR, also known as lorcaserin, are weight-management medicines that were first approved by the FDA in 2012. It's intended to work in tandem with a healthy nutrition and exercise routine, and is catered to patients who have conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or Type 2 diabetes.

To gain FDA approval, the administration required Eisai to conduct a five-year, 12,000-patient study to assess the drug's heart safety. TIME reported it was "the first drug proven to help people lose weight and keep it off for several years without raising their risk for heart problems."

However, recently completed FDA analysis of data from this clinical study showed that 7.7 percent of participants who took Belviq were diagnosed with cancer compared to 7.1 percent of participants in a control group who were given placebos. Cancer types spanned a range, but lung, colorectal and pancreatic cancers were reported more often in Belviq users.

"One of the most notable risks with many weight loss drugs is the long-term effects on a person's heart. Belviq didn't have these effects; however, this newly released data shows that there is still a health risk associated with the drug. In this case it is cancer," said Whitney Butcher, a partner at Whitley Law Firm in Raleigh.

Much of Butcher's work is focused on clients who have been adversely affected by dangerous drugs.

"The extent of the drug's link to cancer and the exact source of the cancer has not been determined," she said. "However, the FDA is urging anyone currently taking Belviq to stop taking the drug and to speak with a physician about other options."

In a recently released statement, the FDA said it is best to dispose of unused lorcaserin products at a drug take-back location. An alternative method includes mixing the pills with dirt, cat litter or coffee grounds before throwing the mixture away in a sealed plastic bag. The administration also recommends removing any labels that list your personal information or can identify you before disposal.

Additionally, the FDA is advising health professionals to stop prescribing and dispensing the drug.

"The FDA is not recommending special screening for patients who have taken lorcaserin. Talk to your health care professional if you have questions," the FDA said. "As any individual patient, regardless of prior lorcaserin treatment, standard screening recommendations for cancer should be implemented."

Though side effects are not uncommon for manufactured pharmaceuticals, Belviq and Beliviq XR have additional side effects that patients should also be aware of.

"Besides cancer, the consumption of Belviq or lorcaserin has been linked to various other side effects and contraindications," Butcher said. "These include muscular discomfort, hypoglycemia, cognitive issues, fatigue and digestive upset. Side effects range from skin breakouts to head and back pain, faintness and respiratory problems. Attorneys who are familiar with the defects associated with Belviq may be able to help a patient who is experiencing these symptoms as a result of taking this drug."

If you or someone you know has taken Belviq or lorcaserin and has been subsequently diagnosed with cancer, you could be entitled to compensation. A personal injury attorney can evaluate your situation and determine whether you have a case.

This article was written for our sponsor, Whitley Law Firm.

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