'Miracle' Diet Drug in the Works. For Real This Time?

Miracle diet drug! Curbs hunger! No side effects! The painless instant weight loss pill has become a modern day Santa Claus. We want to believe in it, but we know it can't exist.

Or can it? A new weight-loss promoting compound, in clinical trials, has researchers buzzing about a possible "wonder" diet drug on the horizon.

The drug company Pfizer (of Viagra fame) launched clinical trials in 2009 on a compound called OAP-189, a powerful appetite suppressant. The synthetic drug mimics the body's naturally producing hormone oxyntomodulin, which switches off the feeling of being hungry. For those who suffer from obesity, that switch is increasingly hard to find.

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"We're finding that the gut releases a lot of satiety-inducing hormones," says Prof. Stephen Bloom, who first isolated the hormone and developed the synthetic version with his team of researchers at the Imperial College of London. In early trials, he used an injectable form of the hormone on patients, resulting in an average weight loss of five pounds a week. "The objective of our research is to isolate these hormones, purify them, make them long-acting and then make them available as some sort of therapeutic administration to chronically restrain people's appetites as if they had
something wrong with their gut so they don't feel hungry all the time," he explained in a radio interview with The Naked Scientists.

Right now patients with severe weight loss requirements rely on diet pills such as Xenical or Alli. Both drugs are trade names of Orlistat, which works by preventing fat absorption. While results have been effective, the side effects have been a major deterrent for users. Diarrhea or incontinence are common complaints. Long-term concerns of liver toxicity have been serious enough for the FDA to launch an investigation in 2009.

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The hope with OAP-189 is to improve results and drastically decrease both short and long-term side effects. Because the drug mimics hormones produced naturally, researchers believe the body could have a higher ability to tolerate the drug. So far, researchers are predicting bouts of nausea to be the most likely side effect of the drug. Bloom even sees the pill potentially replacing bariatric
surgery if all goes well.

Pfizer's clinical trial of OAP-189, completed in August, focused on safety and tolerability of the drug when given with Metformin, a glucose-controlling drug for type 2 diabetics. Meanwhile, Bloom is steadfastly researching three other "gut" hormones along with oxyntomodulin, in hopes of other life-saving weight loss opportunities.

So when will this potential wonder drug be available and could it really be the future of weight loss? Beyond a listing of their clinical trials of the drug, Pfizer is remaining tight-lipped. "We are not able to confirm the extent of our involvement or work in this area," Pfizer spokesperson Lauren Starr told Shine. Don't expect a Christmas miracle drug, at least not this season.

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