April 14, 2024
Eli Lilly’s next-generation obesity drug helped patients lose up to 34 pounds in clinical trial 

Eli Lilly’s next-generation obesity drug helped patients lose up to 34 pounds in clinical trial 

Eli Lilly on Thursday released new data showing strong results for a widely anticipated obesity treatment. 

Adults with obesity or overweight and type 2 diabetes who took tirzepatide during a late-stage clinical trial lost up to 15.7% of their body weight, or about 34.4 pounds, Lilly LLY, +3.74% said. More than 80% of people taking tirzepatide lost at least 5% of their body weight, the company said, compared with about 30% of those taking a placebo. 

The degree of average weight reduction seen in the trial “has not been previously achieved” in similar phase 3 trials, Dr. Jeff Emmick, senior vice president for product development at Lilly, said in a statement. 

Based on the results, Lilly plans in the coming weeks to complete its submission to the Food and Drug Administration, and regulatory action could come later this year, the company said. Tirzepatide was approved by the FDA last year as Mounjaro, a treatment for type 2 diabetes.  

Tirzepatide belongs to a new generation of powerful anti-obesity drugs generating a growing debate about who should use weight-loss drugs and whether and how various forms of insurance should cover them. Obesity affects more than 40% of U.S. adults and is linked to many other serious conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer. 

Some drugs initially approved to treat Type 2 diabetes are now being used for cosmetic weight loss. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez explains how they work, their side effects, and concerns over unintended consequences. Illustration: Elizabeth Smelov

Next-generation obesity drugs already on the market have been in high demand. The soaring popularity of Novo Nordisk NVO, +0.62%’s Wegovy, also known as semaglutide and approved by the FDA for weight loss in 2021, caused supply shortages last year. The company said earlier this year that it is stepping up its Wegovy production capacity. “We know for a fact that patients have been lined up,” Novo Nordisk president and CEO Lars Jorgensen said on a conference call with analysts in February. 

But the newer obesity drugs can also come with a hefty price tag. The average retail price for Mounjaro is about $1,180, according to GoodRx. Medicare is prohibited by law from covering weight-loss medications, and many other insurers follow Medicare’s lead. If 10% of Medicare beneficiaries took brand-name semaglutide, the Medicare Part D prescription-drug program’s annual spending on the drug would be about $26.8 billion, versus $1.3 billion for older, generic weight-loss drugs such as phentermine, according to a study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine. 

The drugs can also have unpleasant side effects. People taking tirzepatide more frequently reported nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and constipation than those taking a placebo, Lilly said.

The tirzepatide results were released as Lilly on Thursday morning reported first-quarter net income of $1.345 billion, or $1.49 a share, down from $1.903 billion, or $2.10 a share, a year earlier. Adjusted per-share earnings were $1.62, falling short of the $1.73 FactSet consensus. 

Revenue fell 11% to to $6.960 billion from $7.810 billion, but was ahead of the $6.864 billion FactSet consensus.

The revenue decline was driven by lower as sales of its COVID antibody treatment fell by $1.47 billion after they stopped working once the omicron variant emerged. Excluding that treatment, revenue rose 10%.

Lilly shares have gained 4.9% in the year to date, while the S&P 500 SPX, +1.96% is up about 7%. 

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