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"There's a lot of serendipity in drug development," says the FDA's Wilkin. A pill to help smokers quit, for example, evolved out of the unexpected observation that a drug intended to treat depression also seemed to take away the desire to smoke. Bupropion was first marketed in 1989 by GlaxoSmithKline as an antidepressant under the name Wellbutrin. After doctors noticed that patients being treated with Wellbutrin gave up smoking spontaneously, studies were done to show that the product could help smokers quit, as well. As a result, the slow-release form of bupropion, marketed as Zyban, was approved by the FDA in 1997 as an aid to smoking cessation treatment.

Some pharmaceutical companies, however, apparently aren't ready to enter the vanity drugs arena. Patrick Davish, the global product communications spokesman for Merck & Co. Inc., says that the drug company has no "cosmetic" drugs in its product pipeline at this time.

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