Wegovy, one of aused for weight loss, reduced the risk of heart attacks in overweight adults in a large trial, according to its manufacturer.
Drugmaker Novo Nordisk on Tuesday reported the results of a new study that tracked more than 17,000 adults over the age of 45 who were overweight or obese and had cardiovascular disease but no history of diabetes.
The trial showed that once-weekly Wegovy injections cut the likelihood of serious cardiac events such as heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular deaths among the study's participants by 20%. That represents a better result than analysts had expected, and the findings could make a strong case for insurers to cover the costly weight-loss drug, Reuters reported.
"The results could improve the willingness to pay for obesity drugs and provide higher incentive to treat obesity at earlier state," noted Henrik Hallengreen Laustsen, an analyst at Jyske Bank, speaking to Reuters.
The trial demonstrates that the medication "has the potential to change how obesity is regarded and treated," Martin Holst Lange, executive vice president for Development at Novo Nordisk, said in a statement.
On "CBS Mornings" Wednesday, Dr. Céline Gounder, a CBS News medical contributor and editor-at-large for public health at KFF Health News, said these results were better than expected.
"A 20% reduction in heart attacks and stroke from a weight loss medication — we've never seen that before with any approved weight loss medication," she said.
Wegovy clinical trials
Wegovy, a brand-name formulation of the GLP-1 receptor agonist semaglutide, received approval to treat adult obesity in 2021. An early study showed that patients taking semaglutide lost 15% of their body weight in 68 weeks.
This latest study shows semaglutide can reduce patients' risks of experiencing cardiac events, which are more common in overweight and obese individuals. Obese adults are 28% more likely to develop heart disease compared with adults with a healthy body-mass index, even when they lack other risk factors, a 2018 study showed.
Gounder said the biggest takeaway from the latest news is: obesity is a disease.
"This is not just about a lack of willpower or not exercising enough," she said. "If you really do want to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, we need to be addressing obesity."
How much is Wegovy?
Even so, some insurers aren't rushing to cover semaglutide.
Wegovy can cost $1,350 per month, according to telehealth and prescription coupon website GoodRx. That's hundreds of dollars more than more traditional weight-loss medications like Orlistat.
Some insurers are paying tens of millions of dollars per month for semaglutide as more Americans are prescribed the medications, the Wall Street Journal reported.
That's led some employers, like the University of Texas System, to end coverage of Wegovy for individuals covered by their health plans, according to the Journal. Other employers are implementing coverage restrictions to deal with the medications' rising costs.
Although more research is needed, Gounder said these options could change the way we think about managing obesity in the longer term — but there's a financial catch.
"Remember, these drugs are very expensive," she said. "Even if insurance covers, your premiums might go up, your co-pays might go up."
Semaglutide safety concerns
Public concerns about the safety of the drug may also be an obstacle to its wider adoption as a first-line treatment against obesity. Patients who have taken Wegovy and other semaglutide-based medications have, like chronic abdominal pain and hypoglycemia.
Earlier this month, a personal injury law firmagainst the manufacturers of Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro, alleging the drugmakers failed to warn patients the treatments could cause gastroparesis, a painful condition in which food is slow to move through the stomach.
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