Scientists have discovered a new benefit to Novo Nordisk’s weight-loss drug Wegovy: It can cut heart-related deaths by 20%, drugmaker reports

The Danish pharma giant Novo Nordisk has found itself at the center of the booming weight-loss industry with its drugs Wegovy and Ozempic taking the world by storm. 

But its benefits stretch beyond helping obese patients shed weight—it also cuts the risk of death associated with heart-related events by 20%, according to new data presented at the American Heart Association and published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Saturday. 

The headline number was reported by Novo Nordisk in August based on the pharma company’s five-year trial of nearly 18,000 adults. But details of the study released in the weekend suggest Wegovy’s benefits stretch beyond the known advantages to losing weight.  

The trial found that overweight and obese patients who used Wegovy saw the risk of non-fatal heart attack drop by 28%, while those of non-fatal strokes and heart-related deaths fell by 7% and 15%, respectively, compared to a placebo, Novo said.

Those cardiovascular benefits kicked in even before patients began losing weight, Reuters reported. Other notable advantages include declines in blood sugar levels and inflammation, which often accompany heart diseases.

“It moves from a kind of therapy that reduces body weight to a therapy that reduces cardiovascular events,” said Dr. Michael Lincoff, the study’s lead author and a heart expert at the Cleveland Clinic, according to the Associated Press. 

FDA request

Novo has requested the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to update the label of Wegovy to reflect the heart benefits of the drug—as indicated in Type-2 diabetes drug Ozempic’s label.

The breakthrough findings could be a big boost for the injectables as they seek coverage from insurance companies. Weight-loss drugs carry hefty price tags of over $1,000 in the case of Wegovy, and aren’t covered by many private health insurance providers. The potentially life-saving capabilities of the Wegovy could also give Novo an edge in an increasingly competitive market, as rival drug, Eli Lilly’s Zepbound, received regulatory approval for weight-loss in the U.S. and U.K. last week.

“Increasingly, physicians are understanding that this is not just about weight and appearance,” Novo CEO Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen, told Bloomberg last week. “It’s about real health benefits.”

Novo’s shares are up roughly 2% as of 11.30 a.m. GMT. 

Keeping up with the weight-loss drug demand

Novo has witnessed demand for its weight-loss aiding drugs Wegovy and Ozempic skyrocket in recent times—and with it, its sales and profits, too. Last quarter, the drugmaker sold about $900 million worth of Wegovy, marking an eight-fold increase compared to the same period last year. Novo’s revenue soared 29%, and net profits were up 56% in the third quarter.  

Europe’s most valuable company has seen a stratospheric growth driven by its twin drugs, which have helped make its market cap bigger than Denmark’s 2022 GDP. And as popularity for Wegovy and Ozempic increase, Novo is still scrambling to supply enough of the drugs to meet its demand. 

“Novo Nordisk is investing in internal and external capacity to increase supply both short and long term,” the group said in its earnings report. “While supply capacity for Wegovy is gradually being expanded, the supply of the lower dose strengths in the U.S. will remain restricted to safeguard continuity of care.”

Novo hasn’t been the solo winner of the weight-loss drug boom—Eli Lilly has also been on the receiving end of the interest in this space. In its last quarter, Lilly saw a 37% increase in revenue to $9.5 billion, thanks in large part to diabetes drug Mounjaro, which has shown it can pare pounds. The medication has yet to be approved in the U.S. specifically for weight-loss.

Despite the challenges surrounding how the drugs will be supplied to a fast-growing market and covered by insurance companies as their adoption increases, one thing is certain: the impact of weight-loss drugs is far-reaching. Retail companies are bracing for what the drugs’ uptake could do to their business, while medical device makers are seeing a fall in the sales of some of their machines that help obese and diabetic patients.

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