According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 73% of all adults over the age of 19 in the United States are overweight.
It’s not surprising, then, that a number of medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help Americans lose weight. Unfortunately, one of these medications, Belviq, was pulled from the marketplace over concerns that it may cause cancer.
Let’s take a closer look at Belviq and the pharmaceutical liability lawsuits filed by people who ingested Belviq and later developed cancer.
Belviq (the generic form of the drug lorcaserin) is a prescription weight-loss drug manufactured by Eisai Pharmaceuticals.
The weight-loss drug was approved by the FDA in 2012.
The drug works by increasing feelings of fullness so that the person taking the drug eats less food. Belviq is available as a regular tablet (Belviq) and an extended-release tablet (Belviq XR).
On February 13, 2020, the FDA requested that Eisai Pharmaceuticals voluntarily withdraw Belviq from the U.S. marketplace.
The request was made in response to the clinical trials conducted by Eisai Pharmaceuticals (at the request of the FDA), which showed an increased occurrence of cancer in people who took Belviq. Specifically, double-blind clinical trials involving approximately 12,000 participants over 5 years showed that more patients taking Belviq were diagnosed with cancer compared to patients taking a placebo.
As the FDA explained:
“We are taking this action because we believe that the risks of [Belviq] outweigh its benefits based on our completed review of results from a randomized clinical trial assessing safety.”
Eisai Pharmaceuticals complied with the FDA’s request to withdraw the drug but issued a statement disagreeing with the FDA’s interpretation of the clinical tests.
The clinical trials conducted by Eisai Pharmaceuticals showed that 7.7% of patients treated with Belviq were later diagnosed with cancer, compared to 7.1% of patients who took the placebo.
"A range of cancer types was reported," the FDA said. "Several different types of cancers occurred more frequently among patients treated with Belviq, including pancreatic, colorectal, and lung cancer.”
These results don’t definitively prove that Belviq causes cancer, but the results are sufficient to raise concerns and warrant further research (particularly in light of a 2011 study showing that Belviq may cause cancer in rats when given in doses larger than recommended for humans).
Almost immediately after the FDA asked Eisai Pharmaceuticals to pull Belviq off the shelves, people started filing lawsuits against the drug manufacturer. These lawsuits are in the early stages and there have not yet been any verdicts or settlements.
In general, the lawsuits allege that Belviq is an unreasonably dangerous drug and the drug manufacturer wrongfully advertised Belviq as safe.
Let’s take a look at a representative lawsuit:
The FDA recommends that people stop taking Belviq immediately and talk to their doctors about alternatives. A number of similar drugs have entered the marketplace since Belviq was withdrawn.
The FDA does not recommend any special cancer screening for people who have taken Belviq. With that being said, it’s never a bad idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you have concerns.
If you developed cancer after taking Belviq, you may be able to file a pharmaceutical liability lawsuit to cover your medical costs, lost wages, and other types of damages caused by the diagnosis.
Additionally, if you develop cancer or if you notice any other severe side effects from taking Belviq, you should report your problems to the FDA’s MedWatch program.