Drug giants Roche and GlaxoSmithKline have joined forces in a deal which will see the latter’s consumer healthcare division get the exclusive rights to detail and promote the Swiss firm’s weight loss drug, Xenical (orlistat), in the USA. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Explaining the rationale behind the deal, Roche’s head of drug partnerships, Peter Hug, said his company had taken “a highly effective” medicine “and added GSK’s [over-the-counter] sales force, one of the strongest in the industry, to be competitive in a challenging market.”

An added bonus is that the firms have been working together for some time and GSK had already recently acquired the rights to an OTC version of the drug [[19/07/04a]]. They are also co-promoting Roche’s postmenopausal osteoporosis agent Boniva/Bonviva (ibandronate), a once-monthly version of which has just been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration [[29/03/05a]].

For GSK’s part, the president of its consumer health division in North America, George Quesnelle, said the agreement “enables us to get hands-on experience promoting prescription Xenical while we prepare our application to the FDA for an OTC version.”

Around two out of three US adults are overweight or obese, so the market is clearly there but Xenical, despite having sales of almost $497 million last year, and being the best-selling treatment on the market, has not sold as well as Roche would have hoped, due in part, some observers believe, to the adverse side effect of diarrhoea.

Getting GSK’s salesforce on the case is a good move, especially as some stiff competition could be lurking around the corner in the shape of Sanofi-Aventis’ anti-obesity drug, Acomplia (rimonabant), which could be on the market next year [[10/11/04f]].