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Diet pill linked to suicide risk

15th June 2007

The diet pill rimonabant is under review by European health regulators after being rejected by a committee of advisors in the United States.

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Rimonabant, manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis, and marketed in Britain as Accompia, has been shown to aid weight loss by reducing appetite, and was hailed as a treatment for obesity.

But a committee advising the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has voted to ban the pill because of its link to an increased risk of suicide.

The committee reviewed studies of rimonabant conducted around the world, concluding that the drug was associated with an increased risk of suicidal thoughts even in those with no history of depression.

In its statement to the FDA, which will decide on the drug in July, the experts wrote: "The evidence for increased suicidal tendencies and depression is of particular concern for a drug targeted toward the obese, a population that has been shown to have a significantly higher incidence of depression and eating disorders compared to non-obese individuals."

Experts have already called for more studies into rimonabant's safety and efficacy.

European regulators will review the drug's safety at an upcoming meeting.

The UK's National Institute of Clinical and Health Excellence (NICE) is currently appraising the drug for use on the NHS.

Sanofi-Aventis said it would continue to work closely with the FDA.

A recent review by the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin said the drug had not been effectively compared with other, cheaper weight loss drugs, such as Xenical (orlistat) and Reductil (sibutramine).

Rimonabant costs £720 a year, while orlistat costs £520, and sibutramine £480-570.

Ian Campbell, medical director of the charity Weight Concern, said the increased risk of suicide was small, however, and that the risks of taking it should be weighed against the improvements in quality of life which came from weight loss. But he said it should not be used in people with depression.

"Rimonabant has a role, it should be used with care but directed towards the right patient it can be effective and safe," he said.

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