Future of Medicine

New Drug Could Change Way Obesity Is Treated

“I'm not showing any signs of diabetes anymore,” said one woman who takes weight loss medication Wegovy. “I am more active; I can get out and do things that I never considered doing.”

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A new drug could change the way obesity is treated, and similar treatment options could be available soon.

Wegovy hit the market last year as the first prescription drug to be FDA-approved for weight loss in seven years.

“With this medicine and with the new medicines that are going to be coming, we're understanding better how the brain actually keeps us at a particular weight, and now we're getting medications that can target that and help bring a person's weight down to a little bit more normal level,” said Washington Center for Weight Management and Research Director Dr. Domenica Rubino.

Rubino was involved in the clinical trial and says the results were remarkable.

“I've been involved in this field for about 20-plus years, and it was the first time that we saw such significant weight loss in some people,” she said.

I'm not showing any signs of diabetes anymore. I am more active. I can get out and do things that I never considered doing.

Marleen Greenleaf

The medication is a revamped version of a popular diabetes drug that’s given at a higher dosage to fight obesity. It mimics a gut hormone that targets areas of the brain, curbing hunger, with many patients losing 15-20% of their body weight.

Marleen Greenleaf of Fort Washington, Maryland, says the weekly injections worked for her. She dropped more than 40 pounds and has been able to keep most of the weight off.

“I'm not showing any signs of diabetes anymore,” she said. “I am more active; I can get out and do things that I never considered doing.”

Demand for Wegovy has been high with the pandemic motivating even more people to lose weight, but one of the biggest drawbacks is the cost. The monthly wholesale price is more than $1,000 and may not be covered by health insurance.

“People need coverage,” Rubino said. “It’s impairing their quality of life and their day-to-day movement. There's a great future ahead to really help people.”

An estimated 20 million Americans will be obese in 2025, raising the risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Health experts say Wegovy and other weight management drugs could bring real change if it’s available to more people and covered by insurance.

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