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Weight loss and much more

Vaseline 4 weeks ago

Exciting times for the pharmaceutical industry

The past seven to eight years have been a remarkably productive time for the pharmaceutical industry.

In addition to vaccines that have saved countless lives during the pandemic, there have also been developments in stem cells, breakthroughs in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and vaccines that selectively target cancer. Recently, a new class of non-opioid painkillers was discovered.

Against this background is the increasing use of artificial intelligence to map the development of new medicines. Within a few years, AI is expected to halve the time from discovery to market, with corresponding cost savings.

Exciting times indeed.

And nowhere is the excitement greater than with the much-discussed weight loss drugs. Oprah and the soap stars love it, and the drugs offer hope for treating a range of diseases. I’m talking about Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and Wegovy (semaglutide) and Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro and Zepbound (tirzepatide).

Their history is fascinating.

Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly have been producing insulin for type 1 diabetes for decades. (I have a granddaughter who is a customer.) From there it was a short jump to type 2 diabetes, a disease greatly worsened by obesity. Hence the attention for weight-loss medications.

Semaglutide, tirzepatide and analogues work by activating the GLP-1 and/or GIP hormone receptors. This signals the pancreas to produce insulin. It also mimics the hormones the body releases when we eat, reducing appetite.

None of this is new. GLP-1 drugs have been around for decades. The problem was that the early versions weren’t very good and only reduced the weight by about 8%.

Ozempic, which hit the market in 2019, followed by Wegovy in 2021 and Eli Lilly products soon after, changed all that and sparked the so-called “paradigm shift” in obesity treatment.

This is why. As reported by Dr. Angela Fitch, president of the Obesity Medicine Association, treatment with tirzepatide produced a 20% weight reduction in an unprecedented 60% of trial participants. Previous clinical trials of semaglutide produced an average weight loss of 16%. According to Dr. Fitch, these results were life changers, giving hope to the 750 million people worldwide living with obesity, many of whom have already exhausted all other means of losing weight.

The current treatment requires weekly injections, although Novo Nordisk reported promising results with pills last month. For added convenience, Eli Lilly is now making Zepbound available via Amazon delivery, although a doctor’s prescription is still required. Some Medicare members may offset the cost to Wegovy as the government steps in to make the drug more affordable.

And weight loss may be just the tip of the iceberg. A semaglutide study of 17,000 patients showed a 20% reduction in heart attacks in patients with a history of cardiovascular disease. The FDA was impressed and approved the use of Wegovy to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, including stroke.

And there is more. Early tests showed that the GLP-1 drugs can also curb alcohol cravings – a godsend for treating alcoholics, if verified.

Overpromising is always risky, and all players are careful not to demand too much. Dr. Evelina Grayver, a specialist in women’s cardiac care, spoke for them all when she said, “There is no such thing as a miracle cure…Lifestyle is the foundation of it all.” Stay active, she said, exercise, watch your diet, don’t smoke and get plenty of rest.

That sets the stage for the GLP-1 drugs to knock it out of the park. Right now, they’ve done that and more. And we’re told there are more like them in the pipeline.

Dave Trecker, Ph.D., is a chemist and retired Pfizer executive living in Naples.