Taiwan pulls weight-loss drug from market over cancer concerns

Obesity drug lorcaserin permanently banned in Taiwan after US study shows increased cancer risk

Weight-loss drug lorcaserin associated with increased risk of cancer. (Pixabay image)

Weight-loss drug lorcaserin associated with increased risk of cancer. (Pixabay image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwanese health authorities announced Thursday (July 16) that the weight-loss drug lorcaserin would be permanently banned from the market after American researchers identified an increased cancer risk in people taking the medication.

Marketed under the brand name Belviq, lorcaserin was in 2012 approved by U.S. authorities as an obesity drug to be used in conjunction with calorie restriction and increased physical activity. A large, randomized clinical trial in 2018 showed that the drug did not raise cardiovascular risk and even helped reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and kidney complications, according to TCTMD.

However, the Taiwan Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Thursday that a recent U.S. study had suggested an association between lorcaserin and a slightly increased risk of cancer. It said the report found more patients taking lorcaserin were diagnosed with cancer than those taking a placebo, and the "numerical imbalance" continued to increase with a longer duration of lorcaserin use.

The FDA said it was advised by the U.S. government to cease production of the medication and withdraw it from the market. The administration stressed that lorcaserin would no longer be sold in Taiwan since "its risks outweigh its benefits," reported UDN.

In a phone interview, FDA official Huang Chyn-liang (黃琴喨) told the media that more than 167,000 boxes of lorcaserin, totaling 10 million pills, had been sold since it entered the Taiwanese market in 2017. She said approximately 10,000 to 20,000 Taiwanese would be affected by the ban, but so far only five cases of adverse reactions related to the drug had been reported, according to CNA.

Lorcaserin marketed under brand name Belviq. (FDA photo)