Drug helps fight obesity linked to certain genetic conditions

An FDA-approved drug can help some adults and pediatric patients with severe obesity.

Dr. David Meeker, CEO of Rhythm Pharmaceuticals, the biotech company that developed the drug, Imcivree, says once administered through an injection it activates the MC4 receptor pathway in the brain, which is responsible for sending a signal that regulates hunger, energy expenditure and consequently body weight.

"This is not simple obesity, this is a rare genetic disease that destroys lives," he said. "They eat a full meal, they're still hungry."

Currently, the prescription drug is approved for three specific genetic diseases, which affect approximately 1,000 to 2,000 patients in the United States. The company hopes the drug will get approval for defects in 30 additional genes.

"If you have a defect in that pathway we essentially bypass your defect, and we can restore the function of that pathway so when you do eat a meal you will feel full," Meeker said.

Phases 2 and 3 of clinical trials for additional diseases have shown successful weight-loss.

Dr. Jennifer Miller explains these rare yet extreme cases oftentimes become noticeable in a patient as young as six months.

"One of the patients in the study when she was about 8 or 9, her mom told me she used to have to sleep in a kitchen chair propped up against the refrigerator at night so that the kid wouldn't sneak out of her room and get into the refrigerator to get some food," Dr. Miller said.

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Dr. Roger Cone, the director of Life Sciences Institute at the University of Michigan, told FOX 5 NY the drug is a step in the right direction but hoped it would be more useful for common dietary and genetic forms of obesity.

"It's many, many years off but it's an important discovery," he said.

Additional trials are planned for patients between the ages of 2 and 6.