Eli lilly says obesity drug results comparable to weight loss surgery
Eli Lilly said a late-stage study of its new weight-loss drug showed it helped patients on high doses reduce their body weight by about one-fifth, raising hopes among doctors and investors that it could become a blockbuster treatment to combat the global obesity epidemic.
The U.S. drugmaker said its drug tirzepatide has shown an average loss of 15 percent of body weight at a low dose to 22.5 percent at a higher dose, and the results could pave the way for an accelerated application for regulatory approval in the U.S.
"We see this as a potential breakthrough for the treatment of obesity," said Jeff Emmick, vice president of product development at Eli Lilly. "It is the first pharmacological treatment to show an average weight loss of more than 20 percent in a Phase 3 clinical trial."
He told the Financial Times the drug showed similar efficacy to bariatric surgery or weight-loss surgery without the complications and concerns associated with such invasive procedures, adding the company would approach the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to discuss possible avenues for earlier surgery submission for regulatory approval.
Shares of Lilly rose 3 percent to $294.58 in midday trading, boosted by positive trial results and a 40 percent increase in net income driven by strong sales of its Covid 19 antibody treatment.
Tirzepatide complements Lilly's growing drug pipeline. The company is on track to meet its goal of bringing 20 new drugs to market in the 10 years from 2014 to 2023.
Pharmaceutical companies are rushing to develop a new generation of drugs to address a growing crisis in the U.S., where two in five people suffer from obesity, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
World Health Organization estimates About 650 million people worldwide suffer from obesity.
Lilly's tirzepatide is administered by injection once a week and works to suppress a person's appetite and increase energy expenditure.
Analysts said previous generations of weight-loss drugs have proven disappointing, often due to safety concerns and the fact that patients tended to regain weight when they stopped their treatment. But Lilly's positive trial results and U.S. regulators' approval last year of a rival drug, Wegovy, developed by Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk, are changing the market, they say.
'We now have the opportunity to create a materials market'. Obesity may currently be a market of just over 1 billion. USD a year, but could rise to well over 10 billion. USD grow," said Peter Verdult, an analyst at Citi.
Shares of Novo Nordisk fell 2.3 percent after Eli Lilly's drug appeared to be more effective than Wegovy. In a late-stage study, the average patient taking Wegovy lost about 15 percent of their body weight, with one-third of patients losing more than 20 percent.
Novo Nordisk said Thursday, "We are confident in our obesity portfolio, which includes Wegovy and Saxenda, and in our industry-leading pipeline."
Wegovy was the first weight loss drug approved by the FDA since 2014. Doctors can prescribe it to obese or overweight patients with comorbidities such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
Both Novo Nordisk and – if approved – Eli Lilly will face a battle to convince payers to fund the drug. Drugmakers will argue that obesity causes complications that can be more expensive down the line, but may get some pushback because of the large market.
Patrick O'Neil, an obesity expert at the Medical University of South Carolina, said the new drugs represent a significant change in the treatment of obesity compared to previous treatments.
"If you lose 15 to 20 percent of your body weight, you will see some noticeable improvements in health and fitness," he said. "But it should be remembered that these drugs should be used in addition to diet, exercise and behavioral changes."
In the U.S., Medicare, the publicly funded health insurance for seniors, does not fund drugs to treat obesity. But the U.K.'s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, known as Nice, issued draft guidance in February recommending that Wegovy be prescribed to adults with a weight-related health condition and a body mass index of at least 35.