ECONOMY

Obesity Drug Helps Patients Lose About 20% of Weight, Lilly Says

Eli Lilly & Co.’s obesity drug tirzepatide helped patients on the highest tested dose shed about 21% of their body weight, or roughly 50 pounds, in a late-stage clinical trial.   

Results ranged from an average loss of about 15% of body weight, or 35 pounds, on a low dose of the drug, to 21%, or 50 pounds, on the highest dose, Lilly said Thursday. Wegovy, a similar drug from Novo Nordisk A/S that tirzepatide would compete with if approved, yields average weight loss of about 15%. 

Nadia Ahmad, senior medical director for the tirzepatide obesity program at Lilly, said that the drug is the first medication in this stage of development to produce such a high level of weight loss. 

“That is a breakthrough for the field,” she said. “It is confirming that we are in a whole new era for the treatment of obesity.” 

The results could enable an expedited regulatory path for the drug that the company plans to discuss with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, executives said. 

Lilly also raised its 2022 revenue forecast as first-quarter earnings beat expectations, fueled by sales of its Covid drugs. The shares rose 3% at noon in New York. 

Injected once a week, tirzepatide is part of a new class of weight-loss medications that have been producing results in a field long troubled by failures and safety concerns. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults have measurements of body mass that put them in the obese or overweight range, according to government statistics. Yet weight-loss treatments are typically underused for a variety of factors, including reluctance by doctors to prescribe them.  

Insurance coverage has proven another thorny challenge for costly new medications like Wegovy, which was approved in the U.S. last summer. Novo has said its obesity franchise should bring in about 25 billion in Danish krone ($3.5 billion) by 2025.

Lilly’s tirzepatide works by mimicking the effects of two gut hormones called GLP-1 and GIP, suppressing appetite and potentially increasing energy expenditure. Ahmad said side effects were minimal. Common issues included nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. 

Lilly’s 72-week research trial enrolled 2,539 participants. Eligible adults had BMIs considered either obese or classified as overweight that were accompanied by another medical condition. Three other research trials of tirzepatide are ongoing. 

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