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Popular weight-loss injectable Wegovy cuts risk of heart attack and stroke by 20%, company says



Popular weight-loss injectable Wegovy reduced cardiovascular death, heart attack, and stroke by 20% in a five-year trial, its manufacturer announced Tuesday.

The results come from the SELECT cardiovascular outcomes trial, which compared a once-weekly Wegovy injection of 2.4 mg with a placebo in a group of nearly 18,000 adults 45 years or older, throughout 41 countries. Participants were overweight or obese and had established heart disease, but no history of diabetes, according to a Tuesday news release from Novo Nordisk.

“People living with obesity have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but to date, there are no approved weight management medications proven to deliver effective weight management while also reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, or cardiovascular death,” said Martin Holst Lange, executive vice president for development at Novo Nordisk, in the release.

The drug “has the potential to change how obesity is regarded and treated,” he added.

Novo Nordisk plans to file for regulatory approvals of a label indication expansion for Wegovy in the U.S. and European Union this year. Detailed results from the study will be presented at a scientific conference later in the year as well, according to the company.

Novo Nordisk recently made headlines when it was revealed that it reportedly spent $11 million last year on meals and travel for thousands of prescribing doctors in an effort to promote Wegovy and similar drugs.

In a statement, Novo Nordisk told Fortune it “follows the highest ethical standards, as well as all legal and regulatory requirements, in our interactions with the medical community and our customers.”

How do Wegovy and drugs like it work?

Popular weight loss and diabetes injectables Wegovy and Ozempic—both Novo Nordisk products—mimic a hormone produced in the intestines after meals, called glucagon-like peptide-1, or GLP-1. The hormone helps regulate appetite and food intake, sending a signal to the brain that allows one to be more satisfied with fewer calories. 

Some GLP-1 agonists like Wegovy are approved for the treatment of obesity in those who have weight-related health conditions like high blood pressure or cholesterol. Others like Ozempic are only approved for those with type 2 diabetes.

Spurred by use of the drug among celebrities like Elon Musk, demand for Wegovy—which can help overweight patients lose about 15% of their body weight—and similar drugs is surging. Novo Nordisk expects operating profits to rise by nearly 20% this year, propelled in part by sales of the drug, Bloomberg recently reported.

The company’s shares rallied around 16% after releasing the study data Tuesday, Endpoint News reported.

Obesity as a chronic medical condition

As so-called “miracle drugs” like Wegovy make headlines, the topic of obesity is again at the forefront of the social consciousness—and the debate that accompanies it. Is obesity hereditary? A choice? Influenced by other factors like poverty and mental illness?

And does it even matter?

“It’s my personal belief that even if someone chose a particular path—and I don’t think that’s the case here—once someone is suffering and sick, I think we, as a society, should treat them,” Zach Reitano recently told Fortune. He’s the cofounder and CEO of Ro, a health care company that treats conditions like obesity, hair loss, and erectile dysfunction via telehealth without requiring insurance.

The stunning success of Wegovy and similar drugs has created the opportunity for conversation about obesity and the factors behind it—and the list doesn’t include character flaws and moral failures, he said.

“Having obesity has often been thought of as a flaw of self-discipline or willpower,” Reitano said. “There are very few health care conditions where people know you have them from an initial interaction—and make a snapshot judgment as a result.”

Evidence is mounting that obesity is “more so a neurohormonal disease” than a consequence of lifestyle choices, he said—“a medical condition similar to other chronic diseases we’re more familiar with, like diabetes and hypertension.”

Not only does the paradigm need to shift so that obesity is seen as a medical condition, but medications like Wegovy must be viewed as medically necessary treatments for that condition, he said, just as insulin treats diabetes and statins treat high blood pressure.

Medications like Wegovy “aren’t for everyone, but they can be a godsend, a game-changer for those for whom they’re clinically appropriate,” he said.

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