Regulator halts ads for weight loss drug

xenicalPHARMACEUTICAL company Roche's plans to make its controversial weight loss drug Xenical a household name have been dealt a severe blow.

The National Drugs and Poisons Schedule Committee has decided to stop it advertising directly to the consumer.

Roche Products said it would not appeal against the decision to revoke its licence to advertise. The regulator found Xenical's marketing generated increased demand among consumers who might not need the drug.

Roche managing director Fred Nadjarian yesterday predicted sales would inevitably fall as consumer awareness dropped off.

Xenical leads the market in weight loss products sold in pharmacies with a quarter of the $95 million in annual sales, according to ACNielsen.

It was set to extend its lead over rivals Reductil and Duromine when it won permission last year to advertise directly to consumers.

"There are probably other options [open to us] but we aren't going to pursue them," Mr Nadjarian said. "We are out of energy on this … If there was another body to whom we can appeal to then we might, but as it's the same body of people it's unlikely."

Xenical will still be available in pharmacies but Roche argues that the void in consumer awareness will be filled by complementary medicines that are allowed to advertise freely but are prevented from carrying claims as bold as those of pharmaceutical products.

"We won't be able to advertise yet products with dubious ingredients largely based on green tea extract, eye of newt, wing of bat and guinea pig tails can," Mr Nadjarian said in a veiled attack on leading complementary weight loss brand, Fatblaster, which has under 3 per cent of the total market.

A Fatblaster spokesman responded: "Natural products are efficacious and low risk, appealing to a totally different consumer. For Xenical to compare their sales to the low-risk natural products category is like claiming car companies are scared of bicycle sales."

Xenical, which is known to have side effects such as diarrhoea and incontinence, became one of the few able to advertise directly to the public following its re-listing as an over-the-counter medication in 2004.

Two months into its campaign the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Council ordered the ad off air after complaints by consumer advocate Choice that it was targeting teenage girls by advertising around Australian Idol.

The TGAC's complaints committee dismissed that claim but found that Roche had breached a code which prohibits "inappropriate or excessive usage".

source - Sydney Morning Herald