(Reuters) - Vivus Inc’s obesity drug Qnexa helped people lose weight but may cause long-term health problems in overweight and obese patients, U.S. drugs reviewers said.
Food and Drug Administration staff will ask an advisory panel to consider whether the drug’s benefits for obese patients will outweigh its risk of birth defects and heart problems.
The FDA staff, in documents posted online on Friday, said patients taking Qnexa during a clinical trial lost more weight, and kept it off for longer, than patients taking a placebo, or sugar pill. These patients also had lower levels of problems associated with obesity, such as issues with blood pressure and blood sugar.
However, the FDA staff said patients taking the drug had more safety problems than patients on a placebo, including memory loss, and these problems could get worse over time. They also said exposure to one of the ingredients in Qnexa has been linked to a higher rate of birth defects in other studies.
Shares of Vivus rose 2.4 percent to $11.45 in pre-market trading.
An advisory panel of outside experts will vote February 22 on whether to recommend the drug, and the FDA is due to make its final decision by April 17.
Qnexa is a combination of appetite suppressant phentermine and anti-seizure drug topiramate.
A company study in December showed topiramate caused a higher rate of oral clefts in infants of women taking the drug during pregnancy, and the company said it would limit Qnexa to women who are not pregnant.
The FDA already rejected Qnexa in 2010 because of safety concerns -- including elevated heart rate in some users and the potential for birth defects if pregnant women used the drug.
Vivus resubmitted its application in October, proposing to limit the drug to only women who cannot have children. In January, the company broadened the label to just limit pregnant women from taking the drug, in response to an FDA request.
Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Derek Caney and Steve Orlofsky