The realm of weight loss drugs is experiencing a surge, thanks to pharmaceutical breakthroughs that enable individuals to shed substantial percentages of their body weight and drop more pounds. While Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic, Wegovy, and Rybelsus have held sway in the market over the past year, Eli Lilly is forging its path in the realm of obesity medications. Newly disclosed data, unveiled by the company on June 23, hints at the potential for expanding treatment options for this chronic condition, including the introduction of pill-based alternatives, potentially rendering them more accessible compared to the current predominance of injectable medications.
During the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association in San Diego, California, from June 23 to June 26, Lilly unveiled findings from studies on three of its weight loss drugs: tirzepatide (Mounjaro), orforglipron, and tirzepatide for sale. Tirzepatide, an injectable medication, targets two obesity-related hormones, glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP). On the other hand, orforglipron targets GLP-1 but is administered orally as a tablet. Retatrutide, also an injectable therapy, targets three hormones: GLP-1, GIP, and glucagon.
Originally designed to address type 2 diabetes by regulating blood sugar, GLP-1-based drugs were discovered to induce significant weight loss in users. This led pharmaceutical companies like Novo Nordisk and Lilly to pivot and seek approvals for various dosages of these medications as weight loss treatments. The receptors for GLP-1 are distributed throughout the body, including in the gut and brain, allowing these drugs to slow stomach emptying, enhance satiety, regulate appetite, and ultimately facilitate weight loss.
Mounjaro was granted FDA approval for treating type 2 diabetes in May 2022. Encouraged by the data showing weight loss benefits, Lilly initiated additional trials to explore its potential as an obesity therapy. In 2022, the company requested FDA approval for this purpose, with a decision anticipated by the end of the year.
At this year’s meeting, Lilly presented data from a study targeting weight loss among individuals with diabetes, a population that often struggles with weight reduction. A 15.7% reduction in body weight was observed among diabetes patients using Mounjaro, a level of weight loss previously unseen with other obesity treatments for this demographic.
Despite the effectiveness of Mounjaro, the need for weekly self-injections may make it impractical for some patients. Injectable drugs are generally costlier than oral medications, as they require sterile dispensing devices. Consequently, Lilly and other pharmaceutical companies are exploring oral alternatives, like orforglipron, to these potent weight loss drugs. Currently, only two injectable drugs, semaglutide (Wegovy) and liraglutide (Saxenda), both manufactured by Novo Nordisk, are approved for obesity treatment. Rybelsus, the sole oral GLP-1-based drug, is approved for type 2 diabetes but not for obesity.
Lilly’s data suggests that orforglipron, administered as a daily tablet, yields weight loss levels comparable to injectable GLP-1 drugs approved for obesity. Further studies will determine the optimal dosage that balances maximum weight loss with minimal side effects.
Lilly also plans to present preliminary results from a study on another weight loss contender, retatrutide, a once-weekly injectable drug targeting three different obesity-related hormones.
With an expanding array of choices for doctors and patients in the near future, personalized obesity treatment could become a reality. Physicians can better match patients with the most suitable medications. The availability of drug-based therapies capable of achieving substantial weight loss, rivaling surgical interventions, offers hope to individuals who may not have considered surgery due to financial constraints. This progress could potentially slow the obesity epidemic’s growth.