There were cancer concerns even before the diet pill Belviq hit the market in 2012. It was the first prescription weight loss treatment the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved in 13 years. Drug regulators were still sore from back-to-back bans of diet pills with the infamous drug cocktail Fen-Phen, which was pulled from the market in 1997 after being linked to heart valve problems, and Meridia, which was discontinued in 2010 due to cardiovascular risks.
Even more worrisome, Belviq was intended for long-term use. An everyday pill to treat a chronic problem: obesity. The new diet pill contained the active ingredient lorcaserin, which acted similar enough to the “Fen” in “Fen-Phen” that regulators considering the approval of Belviq wondered if it could pose similar risks. The concern prompted Slate.com to question, “Fen-Phen All Over Again?”
But there was another blip that gave regulators pause. Belviq’s maker, Arena, had made a previous attempt at getting the drug approved in 2010. Then, regulators questioned the cardiovascular effects, of course. But they also wondered about tests on laboratory rats that showed those treated with Belviq developed cancer. Could this affect humans the same way? The FDA eventually voted down Belviq, and afterwards, Eisai took over exclusive rights to market and distribute the pill.
The drug went back up in front of regulators two years later, this time with more data. It was enough to convince the FDA to approve the new diet pill on the contingency that the drug company would collect long-term data on users to determine if the medication caused heart attacks or strokes. Arena’s stock price more than doubled at the news. Analysts predicted the exciting new diet pill would bring in a billion dollars a year. Belviq would be a blockbuster.
The long-term study concluded in June 2018 and revealed Belviq did not pose heart risks. But in the months that followed, researchers found an alarming trend in the data. The 12,000 Belviq users who were tracked over five years had a higher rate of cancer compared to similar patients not taking the drug. The FDA translated this to about one additional cancer diagnosis per 470 patients for one year. The cancers most often seen among Belviq users included pancreatic, colorectal, and lung.
On Feb. 13, 2020, the FDA called for the withdrawal of Belviq from the market due to the increased risk of cancer. The agency didn’t recommend Belviq users undergo any special cancer screenings, but did urge them to discontinue taking the drug immediately. People who have taken the diet pill are now left to wonder if they will develop cancer in the weeks or months or years to come.
If you used Belviq and then were diagnosed with cancer, you should talk to an attorney. You may have a case against the manufacturer. Attorneys with Beasley Allen Law firm are currently investigating cases of pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer in patients who have been treated with Belviq. Please contact Roger Smith, Ryan Duplechin or Melissa Prickett to discuss a possible claim, or fill out our contact form on this website for a free consultation.