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San Diego-Based Arena Pharmaceuticals To Cut 3/4 Of Workforce

The company's only drug in the market, the weight-loss medication Belviq, has struggled to reach patients.

San Diego-based Arena Pharmaceuticals on Thursday announced plans to lay off 73 percent of its workforce. About 100 workers will lose their jobs.

Arena has one drug on the market, the weight-loss medication Belviq, which has struggled to reach patients.

Belviq was approved by the FDA four years ago to help obese people lower their appetite. But only a fraction of obese Americans, estimated at 78.6 million adults, use Belviq.

About 121,000 Belviq prescriptions were filled in the first quarter of 2016, according to Arena. That's down from 169,000 prescriptions during the same quarter in 2015.

"There could be people who start these medications but develop side effects or don't notice that they're being effective, and then drop off," said UC San Diego's Siddharth Singh, who compared the efficacy of obesity drugs for a recently published study.

He found Belviq was among the less effective obesity drugs on the market. Patients who took it for a year lost only 7.1 pounds on average.

Singh says even modest weight loss can improve cardio-metabolic health. But doctors and patients often don't see the kind of significant weight loss they hope for when taking a drug like Belviq.

"Everyone's looking for that magic pill," Singh said.

Negative side effects such as nausea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal issues can also discourage patients from staying on drugs like Belviq, according to Singh. Doctors may also be wary of prescribing obesity pills due to safety issues with earlier generations of weight-loss drugs.

"Physicians are generally a little gun-shy about prescribing these medications," Singh said.

Arena Pharmaceuticals is slashing more of its workforce after cutting about 80 employees last fall. The company says it plans to focus on developing new drugs currently being tested in clinical trials. Its pipeline includes drugs designed to treat pain, ulcerative colitis and pulmonary arterial hypertension.


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