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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. That word from the Department of Health. So it's no surprise that weight loss drugs are big business. This week a panel of experts advising the FDA said a European obesity drug called Accomplia is unsafe. They said the drug doubles the rate of suicidal thoughts and behavior in people who take it. Critics of weight loss drugs say all such medications come with some kind of potentially dangerous side effect. That's one reason the FDA requires consumers to get a prescription to buy them. But that ends tomorrow when GlaxoSmithKline starts selling a new over-the-counter pill, just in time for summer. From New York, Jaime Bedrin reports.
Jaime Bedrin: GlaxoSmithKline set up temporary shop in New York's Union Square last week to push its new weight-loss drug to the public. The company calls the new pill Alli — as in your ally or partner.
New Yorker Nelly Guzman stopped by the display.
Nelly Guzman: Before I got over here, I was looking at my reflection on the glass, you know, of the businesses. I was looking at my weight. I wasn't impressed. I didn't like the way I looked. I said I want to make a change.
GlaxoSmithKline has spent $150 million trying to reel in customers like Nelly Guzman.
Steve Burton is a vice president for weight control with the company. He says taken along with diet and exercise, Alli makes it easier to lose weight by blocking the amount of fat the body absorbs.
Steve Burton: We want to get the message out that based on science, successful weight loss is modest. That if you can lose 5 percent of your initial body weight that provides substantial proven benefits to your health.
Alli isn't really a new drug. Its active ingredient is orlistat, which is used in a prescription obesity drug called Xenical. Alli is GlaxoSmithKline's low-dose version of Xenical. It's half the strength of Xenical, but GlaxoSmithKline says Alli's still highly effective.
Morgan Downey is with the Obesity Society. He likes Alli because that active ingredient, orlistat, has been used successfully and safely in the past.
Morgan Downey: Now, for the consumer who is looking for that over-the-counter solution, there's going to something that has been subject to the rigorous scrutiny as a drug by the FDA, rather than really kind of getting on the market through a loophole.
Analysts predict as many as six million Americans will use Alli. One reason: it's a lot cheaper than the prescription alternative.
Xenical will run you more than $200 a month if you don't have insurance. A one-month supply of Alli will sell for just $60.