GSK has launched Alli, making it the first over-the-counter drug to be approved for people who are overweight and obese in pharmacies in the UK and across Europe.

The company received European Commission approval to market Alli (orlistat 60mg) at the end of January to adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 28 or more, who are on a reduced calorie, lower-fat diet. That green light for Alli, a lower-dose version of the prescription drug Xenical marketed by Roche, represents the first time the European Commission has approved a non-prescription treatment weight loss.

Manfred Scheske, president of GSK Consumer Healthcare Europe said that Alli “offers adults a real opportunity for losing weight”. He added that the product “has been well received by millions of people in the USA” since it was launched there in February 2007.

GSK added that the launches are supported by “a multi-million pound investment in pharmacy training, consumer marketing and a behavioural support programme in countries throughout Europe”. It will be distributed exclusively through pharmacies.

The firm also noted that users can benefit from the online Alli programme, which provides tools and support to help them follow a sensible diet “and become more active, encouraging sustainable weight loss”. The recommended dose is one 60mg capsule three times a day with meals containing the recommended amount of fat.

News of the launch was hailed as “a step in the right direction” by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. Director of Policy, David Pruce, said it gave the public “convenient access to a proven weight-loss aid” but he noted that "it is important to remember orlistat is not a magic bullet”.

He also confirmed that pharmacists have been given comprehensive training material in anticipation of orlistat's availability”.