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Obesity drugs may soon see more insurance coverage, and Boston study to test new medication

Here’s some interesting news from the obesity drug front. First off, Aetna, one of the nation’s largest insurers, announced Wednesday that it was going to provide coverage for prescription obesity medications including Qsymia and Belviq. Many insurance companies have been dragging their feet on reimbursing for the drugs -- approved by the US Food and Drug Administration this past summer -- which has led to a lag in sales.

Aetna’s move could pave the way for more insurance companies to follow suit, Reuters reports.

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And a second bit of news: Boston Medical Center researchers are looking for overweight volunteers with heart disease or diabetes to enroll in a clinical trial to test an experimental obesity medication. The drug, called Contrave, is a combination of two drugs already on the market: bupropion (an antidepressant) and naltrexone (used to help overcome drug or alcohol addiction).

“Both drugs work a little differently to help control appetite and food intake,” said Dr. Amanda Powell, an obesity medicine physician at Boston Medical Center who is helping to conduct the multi-center trial involving 10,000 patients that’s sponsored by manufacturer Orexigen Therapeutics. “The trial is looking to establish long-term safety over two to four years in real-world patients who already have obesity-related problems like heart disease or diabetes.”

Men who enrolll need to be age 45 or older, while women need to be age 50 or older. While participants will get either the experimental drug (for free) or a placebo, all will have free access to an online weight management program that includes a nutrition and exercise plan; it tracks calorie intake and calorie-burning activities as well as progression toward weight-loss goals.

Earlier trials involving 4,500 participants found that 53 percent of those taking Contrave and 21 percent of those taking placebo lost 5 percent or more of their body weight over the 12-month trial. The company plans to submit a new drug application for FDA approval early next year based on these studies.

The most common side effects associated with Contrave in the initial clinical trials were nausea, constipation, headache, vomiting, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth, and diarrhea. As with any experimental drug, the side-effects and safety profile of Contrave haven’t been established.

For more information about enrolling in the Boston Medical Center study, contact Ashley Bourland at 617-638-5906 or Ashley.Bourland@bmc.org.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.
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