Obesity: Current and potential pharmacotherapeutics and targets

Pharmacol Ther. 2017 Feb:170:116-147. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2016.10.015. Epub 2016 Oct 20.


Obesity is a global epidemic that contributes to a number of health complications including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and neuropsychiatric disorders. Pharmacotherapeutic strategies to treat obesity are urgently needed. Research over the past two decades has increased substantially our knowledge of central and peripheral mechanisms underlying homeostatic energy balance. Homeostatic mechanisms involve multiple components including neuronal circuits, some originating in hypothalamus and brain stem, as well as peripherally-derived satiety, hunger and adiposity signals that modulate neural activity and regulate eating behavior. Dysregulation of one or more of these homeostatic components results in obesity. Coincident with obesity, reward mechanisms that regulate hedonic aspects of food intake override the homeostatic regulation of eating. In addition to functional interactions between homeostatic and reward systems in the regulation of food intake, homeostatic signals have the ability to alter vulnerability to drug abuse. Regarding the treatment of obesity, pharmacological monotherapies primarily focus on a single protein target. FDA-approved monotherapy options include phentermine (Adipex-P®), orlistat (Xenical®), lorcaserin (Belviq®) and liraglutide (Saxenda®). However, monotherapies have limited efficacy, in part due to the recruitment of alternate and counter-regulatory pathways. Consequently, a multi-target approach may provide greater benefit. Recently, two combination products have been approved by the FDA to treat obesity, including phentermine/topiramate (Qsymia®) and naltrexone/bupropion (Contrave®). The current review provides an overview of homeostatic and reward mechanisms that regulate energy balance, potential therapeutic targets for obesity and current treatment options, including some candidate therapeutics in clinical development. Finally, challenges in anti-obesity drug development are discussed.

Keywords: Homeostasis; Obesity; Pharmacotherapy; Reward.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Design*
  • Eating / physiology
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / drug therapy*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Reward


  • Anti-Obesity Agents