Last Updated Jan 7, 2009 10:27 AM EST
Alli made only $88 million in sales for the first nine months of 2008 -- far below the blockbuster status that was anticipated.
The move toward attracting celebrity heat for Alli is a departure from the previous emphasis, which was geared more toward creating an online, community presence for users. GSK has all but abandoned its pioneering blog, alliconnect.com, which has seen only two posts since GSK vp Karen Scollick (pictured) took over the brand.
Some of Scollick's moves appear to be geared toward looking good rather than feeling healthy, as BNET noted last year.
The weight loss business -- traditionally a graveyard of failed drugs -- seems poised to enter a new phase. Alli could launch in Europe this summer.
At the same time, there are two new drugs in testing that have shown promising results against obesity. Scientists at Harvard Medical School are looking at 4-phenyl butyric acid (PBA), which treats cystic fibrosis, and tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), which treats a liver disease. The drugs, already approved by the FDA, manipulate leptin levels in mice.
And Kythera Biopharmaceuticals announced "clinically meaningful" positive results from two phase II studies of its lead product, ATX-101, for zapping small fat deposits under the chin.
To counter them, GSK is pushing three racially distinct Alli "characters" at health conferences.
In its promotional material, the corporation features three different characters: Committed Connie who is white, Committed Carmen who is Latina and Committed Cassandra who is African American. At a media presentation in Philadelphia, a GSK spokesperson was careful to add that, when it comes to the African-American community, Alli's marketing focuses on "health" rather than "weight." She explained, they find size "a little more attractive." Yet, at the same presentation, the GSK spokesperson stressed that Alli only works if a person sticks to a low-calorie, healthy diet.The problem is that Alli is difficult to use and its results can often be modest.
Gareth Williams, professor of medicine at Bristol University, doubts whether the successful weight loss results in trials on volunteers keen to beat the bulge will be repeated when the general public get their hands on the drug.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, Williams said: 'Taking it without medical supervision may achieve an average daily energy deficit of only 100kcal - equivalent of leaving a few French fries on a plate or eating an apple instead of ice cream.'