Associated Press reports today “Drugmaker says 2 million starter kits of weight loss pill sold since June”.

We here at the PAL Blog have been reporting on alli’s brisk sales ever since we have GlaxoSmithKline one of our Bitter Pill Awards back in May, the “With Allies Like This, Who Needs Enemas?” Award. Our posts since then about alli can be found here.

The AP article reports that GSK “expects to sell between 5 million and 6 million kits annually, translating to at least $1.5 billion (€1.06 billion) in annual retail sales.” Drugs with more than a billion in annual sales are considered “blockbusters,” but they’re usually limited to prescription drugs. This shows the success of GlaxoSmithKline’s strategy, in marketing alli (orlistat) as an over-the-counter drug, rather than as a prescription-only drug, which it used to be. The prescription version, Xenical, had only $86.6 million in sales in 2005, according to IMS Health. Yet the drug is no different, except for the dosage. The only difference is that by making it Over-the-Counter, Glaxo has done an end run around physicians, who never considered the drug very useful, as demonstrated by its lackluster sales.

To rephrase an old saying, “No one ever went broke underestimating the American people’s desire for a quick fix.” GlaxoSmithKline certainly isn’t – notwithstanding alli’s well-publicized side effects — including leakage, oily discharge and fecal urgency. Which GSK euphemistically calls “treatment effects.” And convinces people to shell out $50-60 a month for the privilege of experiencing.

Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.