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Alli: Buy the Book

GlaxoSmithKline's Alli (pronounced "ally" -- don't ask me why they put an "i" at the end) is the new over-the-counter version of prescription Xenical from Roche. It's a diet pill, but as I previously blogged, it has potentially embarrassing side effects. On the plus side, GSK says you can subtract 50% more pounds if you use Alli as directed. But, if you still eat too many fatty foods, you could run into trouble.

source: areyoulosingit.myalli.com

So, to help educate people ahead of the Alli launch -- set for sometime next month -- Glaxo is taking the novel step of publishing a book about the drug. Starting this week, a million copies of "Are You Losing It?" are available in some drug stores and discount chains. It'll set you back six bucks, but GSK says it's donating all of the proceeds to a couple of groups that fight childhood obesity.

The paperback is chock full of recipes and basic, common sense tips about how to lose weight -- i.e., exercise more! But it is also filled with some amazingly blunt language about those side effects. If you don't have the stomach for this kind of stuff, then don't read on. Here's an excerpt from page 69 where "real tips for managing treatment side effects" are listed:

"You may feel an urgent need to go to the bathroom. Until you have a sense of your treatment effects, it's probably a smart idea to wear dark pants, and bring a change of clothes with you to work."

"You may not usually get gassy, but it's a possibility when you take Alli. The bathroom is really the only place to go when that happens."

No further comment necessary.

Glaxo says it's spending more than $150 million on the first year of the Alli marketing campaign. Some analysts think peak sales could hit $100 million to $200 million, which for an over-the-counter drug is pretty big, but pales in comparison to billion-dollar blockbuster prescription drugs.

In an interview, Glaxo's head of Alli marketing told me he's been on prescription Xenical for about three years and has dropped about 60 pounds. Steve Burton was quick to add that he's not your typical patient, though, because he changed his diet and exercised more. He claims to have had only one "incident" regarding the above-mentioned side effects during that time. Burton argues that such an incident is more "educational" than embarrassing for patients in that it signals that they need to cut their fat intake. Okay.

It will be interesting to watch how Alli sales hold up if or when Acomplia from Sanofi-Aventis gets to the U.S. market. The FDA could make a decision on SNY's weight loss pill later this year. So far, there've been no reports of similar side effects with Acomplia.

For those who have emailed: Glaxo is only saying Alli will be available in June. Burton would not give me an exact date.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com