What is the Weight Loss Drug Contrave?

Weight Loss Drug Contrave Receives Positive Feedback From Clinical Studies

Food Addiction
Food Addiction

Scientists and drug companies are still hard at work searching for a magic weight loss pill. So far they have had about as much success as a one legged man in an ass-kicking contest, but they have made some headway.

A product called Contrave has been introduced by Orexigen Therapeutics Inc. as the best and brightest future star of new prescription weight loss products.

Contrave is the first weight loss drug to combine an anti-depression and smoking cessation drug called bupropion with naltrexone, which is prescribed to fight alcohol and opiate addiction.

How Contrave Works

Rather than working to increase metabolism, Contrave aims to block cravings in the brain’s craving-reward system. Since the reward is not targeted, users are able to avoid decreased enjoyment from activities like sex and exercise. 10 points for Contrave!

Basically, Contrave battles your addiction to food. Specifically the comfort junk food you eat at 10pm while watching TV on the couch.

Other successful weight loss drugs, such as Meridia, act in a similar manner. Meridia enhances the brain signals that make you feel satisfied, thus acting as a appetite suppressant.

The Contrave Studies

Recently, in clinical trials, Contrave actually exceeded the US Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) standards for classifying a ‘successful’ weight loss drug. FDA standards require a 5 percent weight loss in at least one third of the study group.

Contrave also exceeded the expectation that weight loss of 5 percent of body weight should be experienced by twice as many of the patients using the drugs as patients using the placebo.

Over 3,000 people participated in the study although 40 percent dropped out before the end of the trial. Why did they drop out? The studies don’t say.

Junk Food Cravings
Junk Food Cravings

The results were promising, as over half of the subjects lost more than 5 percent of their body weight, and on average they lost 8 percent of their body weight (roughly 17 pounds) in year.

The placebo group lost only an average of 1 percent in that year.

In addition, the ratio of people who lost at least 5 percent of their body weight for subjects using the drug versus subject taking the placebo, was 3 to 1.

Sounds promising so far, but 5 percent of bodyweight in one year isn’t that great. I can lose 5 percent of my bodyweight in about 2 months.

An Expert Opinion

Dr. Dennis Kim, an assistant professor of medicine at University of California, San Diego. and senior VP of Communications & Medical Affairs at Orexigen Therapeutics Inc. reflected on the studies:

“This is the first drug, that I know of, that addressed the craving issue. We have clearly cleared the hurdle, the efficacy benchmark, it’s of course the FDA’s judgment to see if it passes for safety.”

Contrave Studies Also Receive Some Neutral Feedback

Of course, studies like these always have their naysayers. Dr. David Katz, expert in obesity and associate professor of Public Health at Yale University thought the Contrave results were consistent with other weight loss drugs. Dr. Katz commented:

“I have limited enthusiasm for pharmacotherapy to manage weight, and these results certainly don’t change my view on the topic. The results are promising, although certainly less than dazzling.

Perhaps the single uniquely promising element here is that Contrave is a combination of two drugs long in use for other purposes, and thus likely to be at least relatively safe.”

Dr. Katz was skeptical about the potential of Contrave based on the long-term side effects of other weight loss drugs. He notes:

“Weight is regulated by many pathways, and to date, efforts to turn off appetite along one pathway have resulted in compensation in others.”

The reaction of the director of the nutrition clinic at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y., Keith Ayoob, was merely lukewarm:

“This drug seems to have an edge on the others out there. It appears to have met the FDA criteria and there is a reasonable amount of weight loss over a year’s time.

However, let’s keep real about this. Fifty six weeks is a long time to lose only 5 percent of [body] weight. For a 200 pound person that amounts to 10 pounds in a year.

It’s good, no question, and better than placebos, but I wouldn’t want people thinking this is some sort of miracle.”

Ayoob also notes that people often become obese by overeating for other reasons, both psychological and physiological, not just because they crave junk food.

Sounds to me like this drug will be great for people who can’t moderate their diets, but has little potential for other causes of obesity. Willpower in a pill, if you will.

Fat Chick
Some Overweight People Just Lack Willpower

Side Effects of Contrave

The first 3 common side effects are not at all alarming, while the 2 most serious side effects each only occurred in one person:

  • nausea
  • constipation
  • headache
  • one person had a gall bladder infection
  • one person had seizures

Those short-term side effects are not bad, all things considered. The jury is still out on long-term sides.


With FDA standards satisfied, Orexigen will attempt to file for FDA approval of Contrave by 2010, although approval is not guaranteed.

Even if Contrave is not approved, doctors and scientists believe that this particular approach could become a trend in the treatment of obesity. They believe that drugs like Contrave, which target multiple areas, are the future of obesity treatment.

This type of treatment has additional health advantages:

  • patients feel less grumpy
  • lower LDL cholesterol
  • lower triglycerides
  • less visceral fat
  • smaller waists
  • better control of blood glucose levels, which is useful for diabetics

Contrave will likely be a long term solution based on the FDA’s request for 52 week trials. This will probably be a chronic-use drug that is prescribed to patients for several years, if not a lifetime.

It is probably that Contrave users will not be able to get off Contrave without reversing the weight loss brought on by the drug.

There are still some unanswered questions about Contrave, which cause Doctors to feel skeptical about the drug. Doctors will likely remain pessimistic until the following questions can be answered:

  • What will happen if patients take the drug for a long period of time?
  • What happens when patients stop using the drug?
  • Will patients regain lost weight?
  • What are the long term side effects of using these drugs?

Patients with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes will probably benefit most from this drug, as the added weight loss can help control those problems.

Folks without any willpower can probably use this to curb their cravings, but it remains to be seen if Contrave can conquer real comfort food binging.

Please don’t hand over your money to big pharma while the jury is still out. Anyone remember Fen-Phen?

Tags: , , , ,

5 Responses to “What is the Weight Loss Drug Contrave?”

  1. Given that Contrave is a combination of two drugs that can be used to stop smoking or for alcohol/drug addictions (bupropion and naltrexone respectively) Do you think that the combination would still allow these drugs to hold those properties? If so, it could be a benefit in prescribing Contrave over other obesity medications in that it could be prescribed to patients who are overweight and smokers or drug/alcohol abusers.

  2. All drugs have some sort of side effects. If people would just change their lifestyle to healthier that would be much better. I eat raw and vegan and you would be amazed at the choices, and taste, and even desserts! Yet it is healthy and I have lost 23 lbs.

    To Your Health!
    James Reno (editor)

  3. the article is very interesting…i hv both problems so this can be a life saver for me. im definetly an emotional eater and i need to stop eating and deal w/the problem…but of course easier said than done…maybe this pill can be a starting point for me…thanks and keep working hard …..to get approved by FDA…the bronx

  4. “Lower HDL cholesterol” can’t be an advantage. All these drugs follow the same path: promising trial, media hype, great hope, widespread use and, ultimately, withdrawal from the market from side effects, sometimes lethal.

    • Rambodoc, thanks for the feedback. You are right, lower HDL cholesterol is not an advantage. I meant LDL, so I will go back and change that now. thanks again.

Leave a Reply