Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Alli Oops! I Just Pooped Myself!

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved Alli, a low-dose form of prescription drug Xenical, as an over-the-counter (OTC) weight loss aid for overweight adults.

No prescription required. Also not required: any mention of unpleasant side effects in DTC ads.

According the FDA, the "most common side effect of the product is a change in bowel habits, which may include loose stools." A look at the Xenical Rx label reveals the details (click the image to enlarge):

Oily spotting, flatus with discharge, fecal urgency, and fatty oily stool ... all occurred in more than 20% of patients taking Xenical in clinical trials according to this label.

Xenical sales, according to reports, has been dismal. "Will Diet Pill alli Succeed Where Prescription Diet Drug Xenical Failed?" That's what one report asks:
"In the eight years that Xenical has been on the market, obese and overweight people around the world have tried the diet drug more than 25 million times. Yet, U.S. sales of Xenical peaked in the year 2000 at about $200 million, making it by any standards not a very successful prescription diet drug.

"By comparison, analysts are forecasting that prescription diet drug Acomplia (rimonabant) -- on sale in Europe but still stalled at the Food and Drug Administation -- may ultimately ring up annual sales as high as several billion dollars." (See "Will Diet Pill alli Succeed Where Prescription Diet Drug Xenical Failed?")
Ya think the Xenical side effects were to blame for the dismal sales compared to Acomplia?

Now that GSK is executing its Rx to OTC strategy with Xenical, will sales improve?

You bet they will!

And the reason they will is that finally GSK marketers can talk about the benefits without giving equal time (fair balance) to those unpleasant side effects. On the MyAlli Web site, side effect information is buried in press releases and watered down somewhat as in "Consuming a meal with too much fat, while taking alli, can result in bowel changes such as having an urgent need to use the bathroom." You can find that buried in the 9th paragraph of the GSK press release.

If you click on "How Does It Work" and then find the "important safety information" link on that page and scan down below the page fold, you will find a few carefully wordsmithed phrases designed to tone down the shitty imagery somewhat:
  • gas with oily spotting
  • loose stools
  • more frequent stools that may be hard to control
Based on my study of print DTC ads (see "Print DTC: How Does It Measure Up?"), I expect the Alli ads in Oprah and other magazines to hide this information even better. In my study, exactly 0% of the OTC drug ads I studied mentioned any side effects at all!

I find it ironic that GSK/FDA point that these side effects can be minimized by eating a low-fat diet. Of course, if we all did that we wouldn't need an Alli in the first place.

Of course, you could always pick up a box of Depends at the next counter over when you purchase your Alli at the drug store.


  1. Anonymous4:51 PM

    Even the ALLI company mouthpiece crapped himself!


  2. Thanks for that link. I swear I didn't see thiws before I wrote the headline of my post.

    I especially like the description of GSK's "mothpiece" Steven Burton:

    "I'll never forget having a fish sandwich and loading it up with tartar sauce and having French fries," Burton recalled. "I actually discharged some oil." Luckily for Burton, what he refers to as his "classic oops" episode happened on a Saturday when he was doing errands, not during an important meeting. So he went home to change clothes.

    He shoulda picked up the Depends like I suggested!

  3. Anonymous11:06 AM

    This is going to backfire on GSK. People who dont read the labels or know about these side effects will take this product and when an accident happens it people will talk to one another via Consumer Generate MEdia

  4. LOL!

    Backfire..... :-)

  5. It actually sounds like an ideal adverse effect.... if you eat something bad (i.e fried, loaded with fat, etc) you pay in a very unpleasant, non life threatening way. What a concept. The next time someone drives by McDonalds after a leakage episode, he probably wont stop in... and that thousand calories will be replaced by soemthing more healthy.

  6. Anonymous11:06 PM

    Disgusting! I never fail to be amazed at what the FDA will approve next. There are several hysterically funny posts/exposes/rants on Alli over at a new feisty health blog, Don't miss them! Too funny.

  7. ... in another twist GlaxoSmithKline are donating money from sales of the book that comes with Alli to the Obesity Society.

    Nothing underhand going on there then!

    Seroxat Sufferers Blog

  8. How can a drug that blocks 3.75 grams of fat per meal get so much attention? That's 33.75 calories a meal. Woe...alert the media....wait, they already have, and the media, like the lemmings they are, just do the marketing for Alli.

  9. Anonymous4:33 PM

    I used Xenical a few years ago and yes, it was horrible. I have changed the way I eat and have been using Alli for the past two months. Yes, my stool is softer and i get an occassional run for the bathroom moment, but it does help. And yes, you learn quickly that you can't eat fatty foods like McDonald's or KFC. You will eat healthier and you will lose weight. Great product.


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