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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A vegan bodybuilding experiment: Joshua Knox

Published on Dec 5, 2012 A fateful blizzard on a drive to Tahoe led to a conversation about food and nutrition, which inspired bodybuilder Joshua Knox, a Google employee, to go vegan for a week. One week turned into a 1.5 year lifestyle experiment with bodybuilding and diet.

A vegan bodybuilding experiment: Joshua Knox at TEDxFremont - YouTube

Pharma groups hope for diet drugs binge -

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People line up to buy food at a fast food restaurant in Harlem in New York

As Christmas overeating gives way to under-fulfilled new year diets, the pharmaceutical industry’s appetite has been whetted for a fresh surge in business.

After years of caution and setbacks, several drug companies are preparing to capitalise on what they hope will be a surge in sales from prescription medicines linked to the growing global trend of obesity.

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“It has been a very challenged category, but there is a feeling we have to do something about obesity with the realisation that it is a medical epidemic,” says Peter Tam, president of Vivus, a California-based biotechnology company. Last autumn it launched Qsymia, the first weight loss drug to win US regulatory approval in 13 years.

In the coming weeks, Arena, another West Coast biotech, is set to launch its drug Belviq after receiving authorisation. A third, Orexigen, is preparing to submit for fresh regulatory approval for its experimental medicine Contrave after previous rejections.

“There has been a very significant and rather sudden shift in the views of the regulator over the past year,” says Simos Simeonidis, senior biotech analyst with Cowen. “Companies had been laying off staff and putting products on hold. Now there has been a resurgence and a lot of investor interest.”

Weight loss drugs have long been viewed with suspicion by healthcare specialists both because of their limited efficacy and the risks of side effects – factors which continue to haunt the field. Qsymia’s weight loss impact is slightly more than 10 per cent and Belviq’s less than 6 per cent – both when tested in ideal conditions with strong medical supervision.

Surgery more effective

Alongside diet and exercise, popping a pill may appear to be the easiest and most painless way to lose weight, writes Andrew Jack. But recent studies suggest that intrusive surgery is a more effective – and potentially even more cost effective – approach.

Prescription medicines, let alone over-the-counter drugs, are a lucrative business, sold on the back of consumer demand to tackle rising levels of obesity. Yet the side effects and low efficacy leave many specialists unconvinced of their value.

With obesity rates continuing to rise, such approaches have rarely led to any significant and sustained amount of weight loss. Furthermore, it may be many years before medical complications appear, making insurers reluctant to pay for drugs. They often limit their use to those who are already severely overweight, by which time reversal may be still more difficult.

In such extreme cases, bariatric surgery to physically reduce the size of the stomach and cut the appetite has offered considerable promise. It has won endorsement by institutions including the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, the UK government’s medical watchdog that frequently rejects medicines for not being cost effective.

Even less palatable experimental options – so-called “transpoosians” – are also demonstrating promise. They involve the transplant of faecal matter from other individuals to boost bacterial flora in the guts, which are now seen as important in determining obesity.

While surgery is costly, complicated and places pressures on cash-strapped hospitals, its long term impact could yet outweigh the vast amounts spent today on medicines with limited impact.

Meanwhile, Wyeth, now part of Pfizer, is still fighting claims of heart valve defects and other problems linked to Fen-Phen, a combination of diet drugs withdrawn in 1997 for which it earmarked reserves of $21bn to cover settlements. Regulators subsequently pulled Abbott’s drug Meridia, and – in Europe – both Servier’s Mediator and Sanofi’s Acomplia, which was linked to suicidal feelings.

Only one prescription weight loss drug has remained on the market in the US: Roche’s Xenical, approved in 1999 and also now sold over-the-counter by GlaxoSmithKline as Alli. It appears relatively safe, but only modestly effective and brings unpleasant side effects including oily stools. That has limited its commercial success and frustrated attempts by GSK to find a buyer.

Mr Tam suggests that fresh interest in diet drugs by US regulators began in 2007 with studies on the significant impact of bariatric surgery in reducing not only obesity but related mortality. In recent months, he says high-level scientific meetings coupled with public discussion led by Michelle Obama, the US first lady, may have proved important in urging a more receptive attitude towards medicines.

For now, larger western pharmaceutical companies remain reluctant, with little in their late-stage pipelines except for Novo Nordisk of Denmark, the specialist diabetes company. It is currently testing expanded use of its injectable treatment Victoza for weight loss.

Japanese companies have proved more active: Eisai partnered with Arena and Takeda with Orexigen. Mr Simeonidis suggests this may reflect that until recently the investments in weight-loss biotech companies were “a free option” given high scepticism and low valuations. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see more involvement from big pharma now.”

For now, Mr Tam says Vivus is rebuffing alliances. “We have preferred to shake off suitors and do it alone to maintain value for our shareholders.” But he foresees the prospect ahead of using direct-to-consumer advertising and a larger scale sales force to market Qsymia to doctors – something likely to require a big pharma partner.

The path will not prove easy. Vivus had to agree a tight monitoring programme with US regulators to track each user, notably to avoid the risk of its use by pregnant women, since Qsymia can cause birth defects. The more aggressively any of the new diet pills are marketed, the greater the risks of misuse, failure to ensure the drug is accompanied by diet and exercise and danger of consumer disappointment.

Gary Palmer, chief medical officer in the US for Eisai, which will co-ordinate Belviq’s launch for Arena, says: “We are still considering whether to use direct-to-consumer advertising. Our approach will start with specialists. This is about being responsible and educating the physicians.”

Concerns linger about safety. Sidney Wolfe, head of the health research group at Public Citizen, a US consumer watchdog that has fought approval of the new drugs, wrote recently: “Obesity is unquestionably a serious public health concern, but that doesn’t give the FDA licence to ignore the scientific evidence.”

European regulators, stung by their recent bad experiences with Acomplia and Mediator, remain sceptical and have so far not approved the newer drugs. And many health insurers in the US remain cautious about reimbursing a medicine with modest efficacy and only potentially very long-term benefits – leaving consumers to pay out of pocket.

Donny Wong, head of metabolic disorders at Decision Resources, a market research agency, predicts rising obesity will increase demand in the years to come. But he warns: “Expectations are really sky high. Patients are expecting at 55 years old to go back to their ideal weight at 20, with a 15-20 per cent loss that is unachievable. They will very rapidly become disappointed.”

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Pharma groups hope for diet drugs binge -

Why Bodybuilding at Age 93 is a Great Idea: Charles Eugster at TEDxZurich - YouTube

Published on Nov 27, 2012

Of the recent changes that the human race has experienced, the increasing population numbers are especially dramatic and worrying coupled with the frightening great and continuous increase in obesity and the resultant diabetes pandemic. A particular amount of attention has been given to the rapid and continuing growth of longevity.
Yet our knowledge of the aging process is still very limited as what we observe is the result of a health-destroying lifestyle. Retirement creates invalids. Chronic disease is rampant in old age resulting in such enormous medical costs that should present trends continue, together with the diabetes pandemic, some countries could become bankrupt. Diabetes is already an international public health issue and inactivity is one of the biggest killers. The loss of wasted human potential and wealth is already immense.

Successful aging requires work, diet and exercise. The huge mental and physical potential of the aged remains unexplored. Bodies can now be rebuilt at any age and a new life started. Beauty kings and queens in the 80-year-old category or a beach body at the age of 94 are not impossible. We will all, regardless of age, have to take greater responsibility for our own health in order to confront the immense challenges confronting the human race.

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Why Bodybuilding at Age 93 is a Great Idea: Charles Eugster at TEDxZurich - YouTube