Weight Loss Drug Belviq Recalled for Possible Cancer Risk
March 25, 2020
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When do the dangers of a drug outweigh its benefits? Pharmaceutical company Eisai, Inc. and the FDA disagree—but thankfully, the FDA’s viewpoint has prevailed.

Belviq, active ingredient lorcaserin, has been recalled from U.S. markets after an FDA request. The weight-loss drug was initially approved in 2012 and came to markets in 2013. According to the manufacturers, it helped decrease users’ appetites, thereby assisting efforts to lower calorie intake. It was typically prescribed to patients who had weight-related health concerns.

Though the drug was not as widespread as marketers expected, at the peak of its use in 2015, more than half a million patients received prescriptions. This recall may come too late for them and over a million other patients who had no idea the drug might increase their risk of developing certain cancers.

Weight-Loss Drugs Have Endangered Patients Before

The cancer risk associated with Belviq was not uncovered due to a high number of patient reports, a factor that spurs many investigations and recalls. In fact, scientists were not thinking about cancer at all. The FDA requested Eisai, Inc. to conduct a longitudinal study to determine whether Belviq could cause heart problems. Instead, they learned it might cause cancer.

Dexfenfluramine and fenfluramine, also used for weight loss, were found to increase the risk of heart valve damage and removed from the market. Meridia, likewise recalled, was linked to heart attacks and strokes. Some weight-loss drugs that are available today can cause serious side effects for certain audiences. Qysmia warns patients with existing hypertension (high blood pressure) or heart conditions, as well as expecting mothers, against using the drug.

The FDA’s request for a Belviq study was justified by these dangers alone. Though the study data did not show an increase in blood pressure or cardiovascular events, it did find an unexpected danger: cancer.


What Cancers Might Belviq Cause?

In a 5-year study with 12,000 participants, researchers found an unexpected side effect attached to the drug. The patients taking the active ingredient (lorcaserin), rather than a placebo, had a higher rate of cancer diagnoses. Belviq users had 462 cancer diagnoses over the course of the study, compared to 423 for those not on the drug. This difference led the FDA to request Eisai, Inc. to recall the drug from markets.

Because this link is fairly new, researchers have not yet discovered the specific factors that may affect patients’ cancer risk. However, they did see a trend among the diagnoses. People who used the drug were more likely to develop cancers of the:

  • Lungs
  • Colon and rectum (colorectal)
  • Pancreas

With an idea of what to look for, researchers may soon be able to understand how the drug is linked to the development of these cancers.

Belviq Subjects Users to Other Side Effects

Cancer is not the only harm Belviq users may face. The drug’s packaging lists several other side effects including:

  • Depression and/or suicidal thoughts
  • Hallucination
  • Bradycardia (dangerously slow heart rate)
  • Problems with focus and/or memory
  • Serotonin syndrome
  • Neuroleptic malignant syndrome

Some people may question whether a drug with this many downsides should even remain on the market. Pharmaceutical products are meant to help consumers—not hurt them. Yet, even knowing about these risks, Eisai, Inc. chose to release Belviq. They expected higher sales than they received, a fact for which American consumers can be grateful. However, the subset of users affected by an unknown danger may feel angry at or betrayed by the company.

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Can Belviq Users File a Lawsuit?

There are laws and regulations to prevent pharmaceutical companies from putting dangerous drugs on the market, but sometimes risky medication makes it through the approval process. Whether by neglecting proper tests or ignoring patient injuries, some companies choose to take a shortcut, accepting the related risk. They seem to forget that behind every such “risk” is a human life that can be forever changed.

The victims of these cancers show exactly how harmful an untested drug can be. Eisai, Inc. must be held accountable for marketing a medication with such severe side effects. Even today, the company may have kept the drug on the market were it not for the FDA’s request. Our dangerous drug attorneys are here to help consumers take on big pharma. We won’t back down from challenges, and we’re not afraid to face even the biggest corporations in court if we believe we can find justice for our clients.

If you were diagnosed with pancreas, colorectal, or lung cancer after taking Belviq, call our team today at (866) 709-0505. You deserve a chance to speak up.