A number of new weight loss drugs have recently been approved or are under development, bringing hope to many struggling with obesity but also raising safety concerns among some medical experts.
Promising Early Results for New Medications
Several new weight loss medications, such as tirzepatide, have shown significant effectiveness in clinical trials. One patient reported losing 40 pounds in a short time on a new drug, bringing his long battle with weight under control.
Table 1 shows the amount of weight loss achieved with some of the new drugs compared to placebos in clinical trials:
|Average Weight Loss
|Up to 22.5% of body weight over 72 weeks
|14-17% of body weight over 68 weeks
|2-4% of body weight over 60-68 weeks
With some patients losing up to 20 percent of their body weight or more, there is understandable excitement around these new options. However, experts caution that while beneficial for many, the medications may not solve underlying conditions for all patients.
Surging Patient Demand Causing Access Issues
Demand for the highly effective new drugs has surged, making access difficult for some patients. Supply constraints and insurance coverage issues have led to waiting lists at some pharmacies.
One patient reported being denied an obesity medication by her insurance due to having a pre-existing heart condition, despite her doctor’s prescription. This demonstrates the complications that can still exist around obtaining coverage for weight loss drugs.
There are also reports of shortages for medications like Ozempic and Wegovy, used off-label for weight loss, as more doctors prescribe them and manufacturers struggle to increase production.
Concerns Around Long-Term Safety and Appropriate Use
While the significant weight loss achieved in trials is promising, there are still unknowns around the long-term safety and efficacy of newer drugs. Some experts point out that the clinical trials have only followed patients using these medications for 1-2 years so far.
There is also concern around patients obtaining weight loss medications without adequate medical supervision. With surging interest in the drugs on social media, doctors caution against using them casually without oversight.
Side effects like gastrointestinal issues and potential effects on heart health need to be carefully monitored. One analysis noted that up to 10.5% of patients discontinued semaglutide trials early due to adverse effects.
What Comes Next? Even More Advances on the Horizon
Looking forward, companies are developing new combinations of drugs for both weight loss and diabetes treatment, aiming to increase effectiveness.
Table 2 shows some of the new formulations in development:
|Stage of Development
|Tirzepatide + Sotagliflozin
|Obesity and type 2 diabetes
|Phase 3 trials
|Semaglutide + Insulin
|Type 2 diabetes
Beyond new chemical formulations, researchers are also exploring new methods of delivery such as oral semaglutide and long-acting injectables to make administration easier on patients.
New guidelines around prescribing and insurance coverage for the medications will also continue developing as regulators catchup to their rapid emergence onto the market.
While risks exist, the advent of dramatically more effective medications represents a major breakthrough in treating obesity. But ensuring they are used appropriately will require ongoing diligence by regulators, doctors, and patients themselves.
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