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GPs urge ban on 'plug' for obesity drug

GPs and drug experts have called for the immediate ban on an obesity 'awareness' campaign they claim is a thinly-veiled plug for anti-obesity drug Xenical.

They have suggested the campaign could amount to direct-to-consumer advertising of a prescription drug ­ illegal in the UK ­ and could add to the burgeoning cost burden of anti-obesity drugs when diet and lifestyle advice would often be more appropriate.

The manufacturer, Roche, denied the claims. A spokeswoman said the campaign was within regulatory and industry guidelines, and was solely to raise awareness of health needs in obesity.

Government figures last month revealed NHS spending on obesity drugs rose 59 per cent to £31 million last year, with costs due to Xenical (orlistat) up 33 per cent to £23 million. Spending on another obesity drug, sibutra-mine, rose almost fourfold.

The campaign, funded by Roche and backed by the

National Obesity Forum,

involves national newspaper adverts and waiting-room posters for GPs in Scotland. The company is considering a similar campaign in England.

One advert features the Roche logo next to the headline 'Trying to lose weight? We can make temptation old news', and invites readers to call a free helpline funded by the company.

Patients are given a definition of obesity and offered advice on seeing their GP, healthy eating and regular exercise, as well as on drug treatment.

Professor Joe Collier, editor of the Consumers Association's Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, claimed the campaign was clearly promoting the drug and should be withdrawn straightaway.

'They're pretending this is disease awareness when it's actually treatment awareness,' said Professor Collier, professor of medicines policy at St George's Hospital in London. 'It's misleading and in my view it's illegal.'

Dr Des Spence, a GP who campaigns against pharmaceutical industry influence on GPs, backed a ban and said many GPs shared his concern.

'If we're going to give people advice about obesity it's very important we're seen as being unbiased,' said Dr Spence, a GP in Glasgow.

'When you consider how much it costs to take out a full-page ad in a national newspaper, the pharmaceutical company obviously has a vested interest.'

Dr Ian Campbell, chair of the National Obesity Forum, which is part-funded by Roche, said obese patients needed to be aware of drug treatments available and would not automatically associate the Roche logo with Xenical. Patients phoning the helpline are greeted with his voice.

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