December started with breaking news in the realm of weight-loss drugs, making the case yet again that GLP-1 drugs can potentially cause significant adverse side effects and should be approached with caution and under medical supervision.
On December 1, 2023, pharma giant Pfizer announced that it decided to halt the development of the twice-daily version of its experimental weight loss pill due to serious side effects observed in a mid-stage clinical study. Obese patients experienced notable weight loss but struggled with tolerating the drug, primarily facing mild gastrointestinal issues.
Despite the setback, Pfizer still plans to release data on a once-a-day version of the drug in the first half of 2024, which will influence its decision on whether to proceed with a phase three study. The company had hoped to capture a share of the lucrative weight loss drug market, but this development puts it behind competitors such as Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk, who are working on pill versions of their successful weight loss and diabetes injections.
Pfizer’s stock closed 5% lower after the announcement, impacting its aspirations to rebound from declining demand for its COVID products. CNBC Digital Reporter Annika Kim Constantino wrote that:
The new data is a blow to Pfizer and its hopes to win a $10 billion slice of the booming weight loss drug market, which CEO Albert Bourla previously said could eventually grow to $90 billion.
The side effects spread to stopping taking the drugs, too
As we’ve mentioned in our previous post, not just taking but stopping the meds can have serious negative consequences, too. This has been backed up by both research and observing the patients who have experienced them. The list is rather long and includes weight gain, blood sugar increase, an increase in blood pressure, mood changes, a negative change in cholesterol levels, and so on.
Health.com writer Michelle Pugle wrote about Ozempic in particular:
Experts emphasize that Ozempic is intended for long-term use and should always be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Experts recommend people who are going off the drug should enroll in a nutrition program before going off the medication, so they’re better equipped to make healthy choices that support their health needs post-Ozempic.
And yet, the weight-loss drug market is thriving
An investigative report by Chad Terhule and Robin Respaut that was published on the same day of Pfizer’s announcement by Reuters said that the Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk paid U.S. medical professionals at least $25.8 million over a decade in fees and expenses related to its weight-loss drugs. It concentrated that money on an elite group of obesity specialists who advocate giving its powerful and expensive drugs to tens of millions of Americans.
One such doctor is Dr. Lee Kaplan, the chief of obesity medicine at Dartmouth College’s medical school, and a leading U.S. obesity specialist. Terhule and Respaut quoted him in their piece:
Obesity, he said, should be treated as aggressively as other chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes — with lifelong prescriptions. “We are going to have to use these medications,” he said at the June gathering, “for as long as the body wants to have obesity.”
Novo’s most lucrative market is, you guessed it, the USA. The authors explain why:
[…] because more than two-thirds of adults are overweight or have obesity and drugs frequently command the highest prices worldwide. Novo charges U.S. customers $1,300 a month for the weekly injection.
The Reuters report also quotes Dr. Arthur Kellermann, a health administrator and former dean of the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, the U.S. military’s medical school, who reviewed Reuters’ findings on Novo’s spending.
The company’s large-scale payments to doctors, he said, illustrate a longstanding problem in the drug industry “The pharmaceutical industry still sees value in paying medical thought leaders to promote their products, and too many of them are happy to sign up for a six- or seven-figure check,” he said, calling such lavish payments “morally and ethically way over the line.”
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Pfizer to discontinue twice-daily weight loss pill due to high rates of adverse side effects,” CNBC.com, 12/1/23
Source: “Maker of Wegovy, Ozempic showers money on U.S. obesity doctors,” Reuters.com, 12/1/23
Source: “What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Taking Ozempic?,” Health.com, 11/30/23
Image by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash