Thursday, July 17, 2008

It's Not DTC, It's HBO

GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare and its team that promotes the over-the-counter weight loss drug alli have to be rooting for HBO’s recently announced pilot “Fat Sells” to make it to the air.

The cable network will air “Fat Sells” (get it?), a “one-hour family drama set in the world of the $46 billion herbal supplement weight loss industry,” with Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker to executive produce.

"Everyone is looking for that Magic Pill to change their lives ... We're taking a world not regulated by the FDA and breaking it wide open," says co-creator Dave Broome.

According to a report from Variety, the story “will center on the head of a weight loss behemoth (and his family) and how his life starts to unravel when the FDA begins investigating the company's claims.”

We can only hope the show can even begin to capture the excitement of a real-life FDA inspection.

Depicting weight-loss supplements as being sold as “magic pills” fits right in with Glaxo’s pitch for alli, our colleagues at “The Tan Sheet” report here. But we’re predicting we won’t see any product placement.

Glaxo, which launched alli (an Rx-to-OTC switch of orlistat, Roche’s Xenical in the prescription market) in 2007 has marketed the drug as part of a program that includes lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. Glaxo positions alli as as “the only FDA approved” OTC weight-loss product, and an alternative to products in the supplement market that do not have to go through pre-market approval and that make more aggressive weight-loss claims.

In fact, in a move back in April that would take a large number of competitors off the market if successful, Glaxo filed a citizen petition in May asking FDA to require pre-market approval for supplements making weight-loss claims. Read about that here.

Supplement firms likely won’t be happy if Fat Sells airs, considering creator Broome, also an executive producer, has already called it an unregulated industry, an impression widely repeated in the press, and one that companies and trade groups are constantly trying to correct. And from the description of the show, it sounds like the firm depicted will be exactly the kind of company that mainstream supplement industry members have been working hard to distance themselves from, via self-regulation and public relations efforts.

On the other hand, if the show is the next “Six Feet Under,” supplement firms –and hopefully FDA – could see the same kind of uptick in job applicants that the funeral industry saw from that show.

Meanwhile, we’ll be here trying to pitch HBO some follow-on hits from the exciting world of FDA-regulated products. Keep an eye out for “The Detailers,” “Hoodia Love” and “GMPs: Miami.”

--Christopher Walker

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