Aug. 8, 2023 – Problems in the heart and blood vessels such as heart attacks and strokes were reduced 20% among patients taking the popular but expensive weight loss drug Wegovy, according to a trial of more than 17,000 people with overweight or obesity who also had cardiovascular disease.
The finding should fuel improved patient access to this drug, a weight loss agent that has historically been hindered by skepticism among U.S. health insurance companies who now may see broader health benefits than just the treatment of overweight and obesity.
Wegovy maker Novo Nordisk released the study results this morning. The study found that people who received 2.4-milligram shots of semaglutide (whose brand name is Wegovy) showed a significant 20% reduction in heart-related deaths, heart attacks, or strokes.
The company said semaglutide treatment also significantly reduced how often each of these issues occurred.
The results also showed a level of safety and patient tolerance for weekly shots that were consistent with prior reports. The FDA approved semaglutide as Wegovy in 2021 for weight loss, and as Ozempic, with a maximum dose of 2.0 milligrams, for blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes. Semaglutide belongs to a class of drugs called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists.
‘A Good Result for Patients’
“The top line results … are exciting as preventing heart attacks and stroke with a drug that also lowers weight is very important for many patients, especially if the data also show, as I suspect they will, a meaningful improvement of quality of life for patients due to associated weight loss,” said Naveed Sattar, PhD, a professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow in Scotland who was not involved with the study.
“This is a good result for patients,” said Sattar, who also noted that “we do not know to what extent the weight loss effects of semaglutide, as opposed to its other direct effects on blood vessels or the heart, account for the 20% reduction in cardiovascular events, and more data are needed to try to work this out.”
Despite this lack of clarity over the role weight loss itself played in driving the results, the findings challenge a long-standing prejudice against the medical necessity and safety of weight loss drugs when used for the sole point of helping people lose weight.
Changing How Obesity Is Regarded
"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,” Martin Holst Lange, MD, PhD, executive vice president for development at Novo Nordisk, said in the company’s news release.
Several of the early medical options for aiding weight loss had substantial adverse effects, including increased major issues in the heart and blood vessels, a history that led to a lot of caution among doctors over the safety of anti-obesity agents and the wisdom of using medically aided weight loss to produce health benefits.
This attitude also helped dampen health insurance coverage of weight loss treatments. For example, Medicare has a long-standing policy against reimbursing the cost of medications that are used for weight loss, and a 2003 federal law prohibited Part D plans from providing this coverage.
According to the Novo Nordisk announcement, there will be a full report on results from the trial at a scientific meeting later this year.