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New Diet Drug Tanking Just Like Its "Treatment Effects"

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Since GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) high profile launch of alli last summer, the first FDA approved diet drug sold over the counter, the only figures that have flattened are sales.

Two million starter packages sold in the first few weeks at $49.99 for 60 pills and $69.99 for 120 thanks to a $150 million populist rollout that included displays in Targets, Wal-Marts and warehouse clubs.

But that revenue growth "will be down a notch" in 2008 Jean-Pierre Garnier, GSK's outgoing CEO cautioned financial analysts, "because you won't have as much growth coming out of alli, although we have some."

Of course all diet products generate dropouts who don't like the results they're getting or the dietary restrictions.

And GSK admits alli results are slow and close to placebo.

But not all diet products feature the "oily bowels" and "anal leakage" that made alli an instant success on the comic circuit.

Because the active ingredient in alli, Orlistat, blocks the body's absorption of fat and ushers it out the bowels, sometimes before a person is ready or warned, GSK originally cautioned users to bring backup underwear with them or wear dark colors.

Users could even exchange "accident support group" tips on alli's online message board.

"You lost a couple of pounds, and you're on a date with that special girl," riffed Jay Leno, and then find yourself saying, "Excuse me while I change my pants."

"With Allies Like This, Who Needs Enemas?" asked Prescription Access Litigation.

"Maybe it should come with a coupon for Depends," quipped Philadelphia-area pharmacist Maria Taylor.

"The Diarrhea Diet" and "Sh-t Yourself Thin" spoofed bloggers.

GSK said the dreaded "treatment effects" which occur when users exceed 15 grams of fat a day--a fast-food hamburger has 30--could teach people to avoid fatty foods through aversion therapy, like Antabuse does with alcohol. (One specialist even suggested users shouldn't get so upset about a little bowel incontinence.)

But critics said if eating right is doing the heavy lifting, why do you need alli to begin with.

And Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Heath Research Group observed that "alli doesn't block carbohydrates" which for many overweight people is the real problem.

Even though Orlistat has been available as the prescription drug Xenical, manufactured by Roche, since 1998, not everyone thinks it's safe.

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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