It is the perfect excuse to have another mince pie. A diet pill that doesn’t make you ill has been developed by scientists.
The drug, which switches off appetite using hormones that are created naturally in the stomach when it is full, is billed as the first to melt away unwanted pounds without causing nasty side effects.
Despite the rising tide of obesity, the difficulty in formulating a safe diet drug means that just one prescription-strength diet pill, Xenical, is on sale in the UK.
It prevents the absorption of fats in the body but comes with unpleasant side-effects, such as upset stomach, while two other ‘wonder drugs’ have recently been withdrawn over fears they damaged the heart and caused serious psychiatric problems.
In contrast, the new drug, OAP-189, is seen as a simpler and safer option.
Its inventor, Professor Stephen Bloom, a world-leading expert in obesity based at Imperial College London, says it works by mimicking a gut hormone, oxyntomodulin, that the body makes when it has had enough to eat.
Levels of this hormone also rise in people who have had gastric bypass operations, in which the stomach is made smaller and the digestive tract replumbed.
The surgery is effective but not without risk, and so Professor Bloom looked for a way of mirroring its weight-loss benefits without an operation.
He said: ‘I think we could mimic the dramatic weight loss achieved with stomach bypass surgery by giving people gut hormone-derived therapies. If you could take away hunger, food is not attractive.’
He started by giving three jabs of the hormone daily to overweight and obese volunteers and they lost an average of 5lb in four weeks. He then reformulated it into OAP-189, which can be given daily or weekly.
It has been bought by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and is now in the early stages of human trials.
Side-effects are predicted to be limited to bouts of nausea, but OAP-189 will have to go through extensive human testing before it reaches the market, which is expected to take between five and seven years.
Initially it is likely to be prescription-only and aimed at diabetics. However, in time, it could be sold in chemists.
Xenical, the only prescription diet drug on the market, has been available over the counter in a half-strength form, known as Alli, since 2009.