A new pharmacologic therapy aimed at long-term weight loss and obesity management has joined the expanding number of other FDA-approved therapies targeted for reducing weight gain in adults. Wegovy (semaglutide) is an obesity drug by Novo Nordisk that is a glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonist that is a higher dose version – 2.4 mg – of the diabetes drug Ozempic (semaglutide). It is to be injected subcutaneously once a week and has an average weight loss of 17.4% or about 34 pounds that was found in company-funded studies.
Why weight loss medications are welcome news for fighting obesity
The availability of this new weapon in fighting excess body weight is welcome news for the more than 100 million obese adults living in the U.S. Individuals carrying excess body weight are at a greater risk for many health conditions altering their quality of life. Some of these increased health risks include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, gout, gallbladder disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, and a higher risk for certain types of cancer. Even losing just 5% of one’s weight can bring health benefits improving blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, joint relief, and improved energy.
While ideally improving one’s dietary and exercise habits is the best way to lose pounds, this has been proven to be challenging for many people. Since 1980, the obesity rate among adults has more than doubled. That’s why supplemented medical interventions, such as surgery and pharmaceutical weight loss medications, are often used as adjunct therapies to achieve weight loss faster with a goal of keeping weight off long-term.
This new drug for weight loss joins the ranks of other pharmacologic therapies such as Saxenda (liraglutide), Contrave (bupropion/naltrexone), and Qysmia (phentermine/topiramate) that also help fight obesity.
Studies conducted on Wegovy showed common side effects of primarily gastrointestinal problems including nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. These usually subsided but about 5% of study participants had to discontinue taking the medication due to the side effects.
How does Wegovy work?
Wegovy works by mimicking a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that targets areas of the brain that regulate appetite and food intake. To reduce side effects of gastrointestinal issues, over a period of 16 to 20 weeks, the medication is given in gradually increased doses up to eventually taking 2.4 mg once weekly. Like all other weight-loss medications, Wegovy is to be used in conjunction with regular exercise, a healthy diet, and other steps like keeping a food diary.
Will insurance pay for Wegovy?
While this new weight loss medication sounds promising for helping individuals reach a healthier body weight, it faces a major uphill battle with convincing insurance payers to cover a drug like Wegovy. Novo Nordisk has not stated what Wegovy’s price tag is, but it’s suspected to be similar to the weight loss drug Saxenda, which retails at $1300 each month without insurance coverage. Many public payers (Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act) view weight loss treatments as lifestyle medications that they are reluctant to pay for.
For now, time will tell if public perception is favorable towards Wegovy and if insurers will begin to recognize obesity as a chronic disease and not as simply a lifestyle issue. This will likely be the criteria determining the fate of Wegovy down the road.