Weight-loss drugs could be moving beyond needles

(Healthcare Brew – Francis Scialabba)  — Just when it seemed the weight-loss drug race couldn’t get any more frenzied, the makers of popular obesity medications said “Hold my syringe.”

Novo Nordisk said yesterday it will seek FDA approval this year for a pill version of its pound-shedding medication, Wegovy (Ozempic for weight loss), after finding that an oral alternative was just as effective as the injectable version.

That leaves Pfizer and Eli Lilly—the maker of Mounjaro, a recent breakout in weight loss—trailing a bit behind as the three drugmakers compete for the biggest slice of a fast-growing industry that could reach $100 billion by the end of the decade, analysts estimate. Pfizer’s CEO has estimated that an obesity pill could rake in $10 billion per year for the company that makes it.

  • In Novo Nordisk’s final trials before FDA review, diabetics lost up to 20 pounds and non-diabetics lost an average of 35 pounds—or 15% of their body weight—on a high-dose daily pill version of semaglutide (the generic name for Ozempic and Wegovy).
  • Competitor Eli Lilly’s oral weight loss drug, orforlipron, enabled non-diabetic users to lose up to 14.7% of their body weight in phase two studies (one step behind final trials). So far, nothing rivals Eli Lilly’s injectable, Mounjaro, which reduces body weight by 22.5%, on average—except its own experimental injectable retatrutide, which the company announced yesterday helped patients lose 24% of their weight.
  • Diabetics who pop the high dose of Pfizer’s pill, danuglipron, shed an average of 10 pounds, according to mid-phase two trial results. Pfizer was developing a second pill, too, but just dropped it after discovering it could harm people’s livers.

But it’s not all pills and rainbows. Some medical professionals think an oral option for weight loss will help those who get squeamish around needles, but critics worry the ease could put pressure on people who are overweight. There’s no timeline yet on when the semaglutide pill form will hit the market, which is still suffering from demand-fueled shortages of Wegovy and Ozempic injectables.