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Michael Hiltzik: Allergan Inc. and the Lap-Band

January 22, 2011 | 11:21 am

Corporations tend to be very careful about the brand names of their most important products. Reporters caught using "xerox" as a verb (especially with a lowercase "x") or referring to a generic bandage as a "band-aid" can expect to get a letter from Xerox Corp. or Johnson & Johnson reminding them that these are trademarks not to be taken lightly or used in vain.

My Sunday column asks why, in that vein, Irvine-based Allergan Inc. is so blase about the marketing of its Lap-Band by others? The Lap-Band is a surgical device implanted around your stomach to reduce your appetite; it's for the dangerously obese only. Yet it's marketed relentlessly in Southern California via those 1-800-GET-THIN billboards, the sides of buses, and on radio and TV -- so much so that even the director of the county Department of Public Health has raised an issue about it with the federal government. (See his letter here.)

The executive summary of Allergan's presentation to the FDA panel, seeking broader use of the Lap-Band is here.

The Swiss study questioning the procedure's long-term effectiveness is here.

A 2009 report on the many reasons for failure of gastric banding surgery is here.

The column starts below.

This year is shaping up as a gratifying one for Allergan, the big Irvine company known for Botox and breast implants.

The leading manufacturer of gastric bands, which are surgically implanted around the stomach to suppress the appetite of extremely overweight people, the company recently persuaded an advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration to endorse its product for use by an expanded group of patients.

Then there's the recovering economy, which should help buck up sales of its Lap-Band for "unreimbursed" patients -- that is, those whose operations aren't covered by insurance. The cash-pay market, Allergan executives have said, rises and falls in tandem with the unemployment rate.

All that comes as the company is poised to reap the whirlwind of New Year's resolutions by prospective patients determined to lose weight in 2011.

The important question is whether all of this is good for weight-loss patients. More to the point: Is any of it good for the patients?

Read the whole column.

-- Michael Hiltzik

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