What If One Shot Could Melt Away Fat?

Senior woman massaging her neck
Senior woman massaging her neck Photo: i love images/Getty Images

At the moment, the double-chinned have a couple of options for changing the look of their face, if they want to: They can either have that second chin cut out or sucked out. But soon there will be a third option. Earlier this month, an FDA advisory board unanimously approved a drug called ATX-101.

ATX-101 is a synthetic version of a natural bile acid that breaks down fats in our intestines; when it's injected into a flabby chin in a gridlike pattern, the acid destroys the cells, and the body metabolises the remains. After 19 clinical studies on more than 2,600 patients, the drug proved effective both at reducing fat under the chin — and at increasing patients' happiness with their appearance.

With the drug poised for FDA approval, Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, the company that developed it, says dermatologists could be using it on patients later this year. Side effects after the 15 minutes of injections are negligible — some swelling, bruising, and pain, but nothing worse than plastic surgery.

The dermatology industry is, understandably, excited about the drug, as Dr. Adam M. Rotunda said in an interview with Dermatology Times. If approved, ATX-101 “will create a new market in terms of how we think about fat,” said Rotunda, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

But there are important issues to work out before hours at the gym can be replaced with a series of fat-melting shots. Even Kythera has recommended against using ATX-101 on other body parts: it would take a much larger dosage to melt away love handles than to disappear a chin roll. Part of the concern of off-label use relates to unknown nerve damage, which was seen in a small percentage of trial patients. And Sidney Wolfe, founder of the Public Citizen's Health Research Group, has criticized Kythera for providing inadequate information on the drug’s effect on nerves.

But you can bet the company is working on ways to make the drug safe to inject all over. As an industry analyst told FierceBiotech, once it’s approved, ATX-101 could bring in $300 million a year — and that’s just for injections in double chins.