Move over, Weight Watchers: Eli Lilly is eyeing the diet industry.
Patients taking the highest dose of the experimental drug tirzepatide lost roughly 50 pounds, or 21% of their weight, in a late-stage clinical trial, the pharmaceutical company said on Thursday. Those taking a low dose of the drug, which is injected weekly, lost about 35 pounds, or about 15% of their body weight, Lilly said in a news release.
The 72-week trial involved 2,539 people who were obese or overweight with another medical condition.
"Obesity is a chronic disease that often does not receive the same standard of care as other conditions, despite its impact on physical, psychological and metabolic health, which can include increased risk of hypertension, heart disease, cancer and decreased survival," Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the comprehensive Weight Control Center and the Sanford I. Weill professor of metabolic research at Weill Cornell Medicine, said in the release.
The findings "could represent an important step forward for helping the patient and physician partnership treat this complex disease," the physician and obesity expert added.
Wall Street seemingly agreed, with shares of Lilly up $7.54, or 2.6%, to $292.63 in Thursday afternoon trading.
110 million obese Americans
Tirzepatide is among a new class of weight-loss drugs that appear to offer promise in a field long plagued by gimmicks and safety issues.
"For a long time medications for obesity — we've been researching this area for a long time — have really come up well short of what I think what both doctors and patients would find impressive — to change people who suffer from serious amounts of overweight and obesity," David Ricks, Lilly's CEO, told CNBC on Thursday.
"In the U.S. we spend, the estimate is, a trillion dollars a year treating conditions that manifest from obesity," he added.
Lilly's drug works by imitating gut hormones to curb hunger. A similar medication from Novo Nordisk yields an average weight loss of about 15%.
Roughly 110 million Americans are obese, but only three million are receiving a pharmacological treatment, according to Patrik Jonsson, president of Lilly Immunology, Lilly USA and chief customer officer. "There is a huge opportunity in front of us," Jonsson told a conference in March.
Among five medicines that Lilly plans to launch over the next two years, tirzepatide is also under regulatory review as a treatment for diabetes.
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