Exclusive Wegovy other weight loss drugs are no magic bullet WHO

Exclusive: Wegovy, other weight-loss drugs are ‘no magic bullet’, WHO says in obesity review

LONDON, May 12 (Portal) – New high-potency weight-loss drugs like Novo Nordisk’s (NOVOb.CO) Wegovy are not “magic bullets” for tackling the rapid rise in obesity rates worldwide, the World Health Organization’s nutrition chief told Portal, while the agency confirmed its conducts first review of obesity treatment guidelines in more than 20 years.

The global health agency is first revising guidance on treating children and adolescents with obesity and will then update recommendations for adults, said Francesco Branca, WHO director for nutrition and food safety.

The WHO last issued global guidelines on this issue in 2000, which serve as a blueprint for countries that do not have the resources to make their own plans.

As part of this work, WHO commissioned the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, Italy, to assess the evidence for the use of all medicines in children and adolescents – from older options such as GSK’s Xenical (GSK.L) to newer, more effective treatments like Wegovy and Eli Lilly and Co’s (LLY.N) Mounjaro, Branca told Portal.

“The type of communication around these drugs – ‘We found a solution’ – is wrong,” Branca said. Anti-obesity drugs are important but need to be “part of a comprehensive approach,” he said. “It’s not a silver bullet.”

Branca said other interventions, including diet and exercise, remain crucial to help manage obesity. The latest WHO data shows that the proportion of obese or overweight children and adolescents aged 5 to 19 has increased from 4% in 1975 to just over 18% in 2016, which is now more than 340 million people.

Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly did not immediately respond to a Portal request for comment.

Wegovy and Mounjaro were originally developed for type 2 diabetes to help control blood sugar. More recently, they’ve been shown to help people lose around 15% of their body weight, which has caught the attention of patients, investors, and even celebrities.

They belong to a class of drugs known as GLP-1 agonists. Given through a weekly injection, they work by affecting the hunger signals to the brain and slowing the rate at which a person’s stomach empties, making them feel full for longer.

Studies suggest people may need to take the drugs for the rest of their lives to lose weight.

Wegovy is approved for weight loss in the US and Europe, while Mounjaro is expected to receive US approval later this year. The huge demand for the drugs is expected to reach $100 billion in annual sales within a decade, with as many as ten different drugs on the market.

Medical groups in the US are also reviewing their obesity treatment guidelines to assess the best use of Wegovy and related drugs. Some specialists advocate widespread use, while others recommend giving them priority in high-risk patients with health conditions like diabetes or heart disease that are made worse by being overweight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended the use of such drugs in children as young as 12 years old with obesity, although the long-term effects have yet to be studied.

STRONGER WHO said its revised guidelines will be based on a more robust methodology than previous iterations and will incorporate current scientific evidence. The first draft of the new management guidelines for children and young people is expected by the end of this year.

Branca said the researchers at Mario Negri and other institutions working on the guidelines were extensively screened to rule out any concerns about conflicts of interest.

Novo Nordisk was suspended from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry earlier this year over its marketing practices, including alleged funding for health workers and the provision of training that the association claimed was to promote its drug.

“We really look at the potential conflicts of interest,” Branca said.

He described obesity as a “growing epidemic”.

“There are several reasons why we really need to take much more serious and bold action,” he said.

Reporting by Jennifer Rigby, editing by Michele Gershberg and Jane Merriman

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Jennifer Rigby

Jen reports on health issues affecting people around the world, from malaria to malnutrition. As part of the Health & Pharma team, recent notable contributions include an inquiry into health care for young transgender people in the UK, stories of the rise in measles now that COVID has reached routine vaccination and efforts to prevent the next pandemic. Previously she worked at the Telegraph newspaper and Channel 4 News in the UK and as a freelancer in Myanmar and the Czech Republic.