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Biotechnology and health

Weight-loss drugs: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Weight-loss drugs like Wegovy and Mounjaro are wildly popular and effective, but their long-term health impacts are still unknown.

a manicured hand reaches for a bottle of pills that is casting the shadow of a slimmer person
Jennifer Dionisio

WHO

Eli Lilly, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Viking Therapeutics 

WHEN

Now

One-third of US adults have obesity, a condition that makes them more susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Anti-obesity drugs—including Wegovy and Mounjaro—could help address this public health crisis.

Success stories are everywhere online, from Reddit to TikTok. Novo Nordisk, the company behind two of the popular medications, has seen profits soar, and pharmacies have struggled to keep the drugs in stock.  

These medications help people lose weight by suppressing their appetite. Most were originally developed to treat type 2 diabetes, but in June 2021, Wegovy became the first drug to be approved for weight management since 2014. Semaglutide, the active ingredient in both Wegovy and Ozempic (a diabetes drug that’s often prescribed off-label for weight loss), mimics a hormone that the intestine releases after eating, causing you to feel full. Patients inject the drugs once a week at home and can lose about 12% to 15% of their body weight (though many hit a plateau after that). 

These drugs aren’t perfect—common side effects include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Many patients must stay on the drugs for life to keep the weight off, and the long-term impacts of these treatments remain unknown. The drugs are also expensive, costing more than $1,000 per month, and most insurance plans don’t cover them for weight loss. 

Nevertheless, the treatments could improve the health of millions of people. Some studies even suggest that they alleviate symptoms of heart failure. Dozens of companies are now developing new versions of these weight-loss medications, some of which can be taken orally. 

In November, the US Food and Drug Administration approved Eli Lilly’s diabetes drug Zepbound for obesity. With about 70 new obesity treatments in development, six are now awaiting regulatory review.

In the coming year, expect to see more companies entering the final stages of trials and seeking approval as demand skyrockets. 

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