Activity in the GLP-1 medication space is continuing to heat up. On Wednesday, the FDA approved Eli Lilly’s Zepbound as a treatment for weight loss management, which means Novo Nordisk‘s blockbuster drug Wegovy has a new rival. Lilly’s new drug is the same as its type 2 diabetes medication Mounjaro, but it will now be marketed under the new brand name Zepbound.
There is “an enormous amount of demand” for these injectable weight loss drugs, pointed out John Driscoll, president of U.S. healthcare at Walgreens Boots Alliance, during a Wednesday session at the Reuters Total Health conference in Chicago.
“Obesity is a real crisis, but in some ways, it’s really unaddressed and unaddressable. These drugs appear to have a material impact and, as best we know, a low risk profile, although about 25-30% of people do have some sort of modest discomfort,” he remarked.
In Driscoll’s view, GLP-1 medications “are going to profoundly change the way people experience healthcare.” He added that both on- and off-label use for these drugs has grown a lot more quickly than people expected it would at the time they were approved.
Over time, Driscoll believes that GLP-1 drugs will “just become part of the fabric” of chronic condition management and the overall healthcare system.
“I think this is probably great for chronic care, although we do have to figure out a reimbursement model that correctly compensates pharmacists and others to administer — because that reimbursement hasn’t caught up with the demand,” he declared.
The healthcare industry should come up with an appropriate reimbursement model for these drugs sooner rather than later, given the amount of enthusiasm surrounding GLP-1 drugs, Driscoll added. Zepbound’s new approval marks further expansion of GLP-1 drugs into the weight loss management space, and he doesn’t see this growth slowing down “anytime in the near future.”
He also predicted that more and more pharmaceutical companies will try to bring these types of products to the market. There is a lot of money to be made — Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro was only approved last year, but has already claimed its spot as the drugmaker’s second-largest seller, generating more than $2.9 billion in revenue for the year to date. Ozempic has generated about $9.4 billion this year, and Wegovy sales total about $3 billion — both drugs are sold by Novo Nordisk.
Like many other healthcare leaders, Driscoll is waiting to see how long it will take for a generic to enter the market, but he said he doesn’t foresee that happening anytime soon.
The healthcare industry is “just at the cusp” of understanding GLP-1 drugs’ scope of applications, Driscoll also pointed out. He said that these medications might be able to treat addiction and cardiovascular conditions — and that “large scale studies are really promising in these areas.”
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