With Obesity on the Continued Rise in the U.S., More Anti-Obesity Drugs Are Heading for the Market

3d illustration of Fat cells/Adipocytes

Illustration of adipocytes, or fat cells.

The battle of the bulge is ongoing and it appears that Americans are losing, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report shows that Americans are losing height and gaining girth.

According to the CDC, more than one-third of Americans are classified as obese, about 98 million people. Obesity has been linked to a number of deadly diseases, including increased risks of heart attack, stroke and the onset of diabetes. A report issued earlier this month also showed that obesity is linked to about 4 percent of cancers worldwide. As BioSpace previously reported, the most common types of cancer caused by obesity include bowel, womb, esophageal, pancreatic, kidney, liver, gastric cardia, gallbladder, ovarian, thyroid, myeloma, breast cancer in women after menopause and meningioma.

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With the latest CDC report showing the increasing weight gain across the U.S., CNBC noted that there are several anti-obesity drugs on the market, as well as a number in development that have the potential to turn the tide in the battle of the bulge. In its report, CNBC noted that between now and 2026, six anti-obesity drugs are expected to be released in the United States, pending regulatory approval. Many of the drugs, the report notes, are GLP-1R receptor agonists. The drugs bind to GLP-1 receptors and stimulate the release of insulin. That increases the feeling of fullness in the body, which can lead to weight loss. Companies like Sanofi, Novo Nordisk and AstraZeneca are developing these kinds of medications, CNBC noted.

But, there are also a few on the market that have shown benefit to those who are obese. In the U.S., Novo Nordisk has, not surprisingly, seen an increase in revenue from the sales of Saxenda, its weight-loss drug for diabetics. The Danish company is working on other medications that can also stimulate weight loss in individuals. Last year, Novo Nordisk released Phase II data on its diabetes drug semaglutide that showed patients who took the medication saw a statistically significant and superior reduction in body weight compared to placebo at week 26. Patients who took semaglutide lost an average of 3.7 kg (8.1 pounds) compared to 1.1 kg (2.1 pounds) with placebo, the company said. Semaglutide has been advanced into Phase III development.

Speaking with CNBC, Caroline Apovine, an expert in obesity and diabetes at the Boston University School of Medicine said Novo’s semaglutide is “the one we are really waiting to get” due to the weight loss potential seen in clinical trials.

Another weight-loss drug already on the market is Contrave. Originally developed by San Diego-based Orexigen, Contrave was sold earlier in 2018 to Nalpropion Pharmaceuticals, which was formed as a special purpose entity by an investor group that includes Pernix Therapeutics Holdings. Contrave, which was initially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2014, is a combination of naltrexone HCl and bupropion HCl extended release. Contrave is designed not only to curb hunger but also reduce cravings. When the sale was announced in April, Orexigen said there were about 2.5 million Contrave prescriptions in the United States.

In addition to Saxenda and Contrave, there are several other anti-obesity drugs on the market, including Xenical (also sold as Alli), Eisai’s Belviq and VIVUS’ Qsymia.

While these drugs may soon be joined by next-generation weight loss treatments, CNBC noted that there are still a few hurdles that will have to be overcome before they are in greater use. The first issue is that few doctors treat obesity as a disease, CNBC reported. Healthcare experts cited in the report noted that obesity should be treated as a chronic condition, rather than as simply a result of overeating and a lack of exercise. Diet and exercise have not worked well for many people and the weight keeps piling on, the experts said.

Once doctors turn to treat excess weight with medicines, there are still issues such as how long the medication will be used and the cost of the drugs. The experts cited in the report said that doctors currently only think of short-term weight loss with medication, then back off of it, instead of using it to maintain the lost pounds. Cost is also a factor. Many insurers won’t cover the anti-obesity medications, and they can have high out-of-pocket costs. CNBC noted that Novo’s Saxenda can cost $1,000 per month and Contrave, can cost $200. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity specialist, expert and Harvard University instructor, told CNBC that surgeries for weight loss are typically covered by insurers, but not the medications. Until these obstacles can be overcome, Stanford said the “full potential for positive public health impact by the upcoming obesity drugs will never be met.”

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