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Everything to know about the new weight loss drug

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  • The FDA is expected to approve tirzepatide for weight loss this year.
  • Clinical trials found that patients lost an average of 22.5% of their body weight with the drug.
  • The drug is not expected to be affordable for the majority.

A currently approved drug to improve blood sugar regulation in adults with type 2 diabetes is expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for weight loss this year — and there are many concerns about who will be able to afford it.

The drug, which is called tirzepatide (or its brand name Monjaro), could lead to as much as $48 billion in annual sales and could become the most popular drug of all time once approved, experts say. NBC News.

Its use is expected to expand to include weight loss treatment, thanks to impressive findings in a phase 3 clinical trial. In the study, researchers found that patients lost an average of 22.5% of their body weight (or about 52 pounds). In comparison, similar weight-loss drugs Wegovy and Saxenda reduced body weight by about 15% (Wegovy) and 5% (Saxenda).

But what exactly is tirzepatide and how does it work? Here’s what you need to know.

What is tirzepatide?

Tirzepatide is in a class of drugs called GLP-1 agonists, which mimic hormones involved in controlling blood sugar and appetite. It’s taken by injection once a week and has been shown to decrease the amount of food people eat and increase the amount of energy they burn, according to a press release from drugmaker Eli Lilly.

There are other GLP-1 agonists on the market – Wegovy and Saxenda – but tirzepatide has a hormone-mimicking element called GIP, which can reduce appetite and improve the body’s ability to break down sugar and fat, explains Eli Lilly . The drug’s elements “work together to improve how the brain views weight, which leads to weight loss and better blood sugar regulation,” says Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, Ph.D., MD, MD, MD. obesity medicine and clinical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital. .

In phase 3 clinical trials, patients lost an average of 15 pounds more with tirzepatide than placebo and an average of 23 pounds more than the placebo group when using tirzepatide and insulin.

“GLP-1 agonists are very popular today for weight loss,” says Jamie Alan, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University. “It is anticipated that this drug will be much more beneficial.”

“This is another tool to help with weight loss,” says Mir Ali, MD, bariatric surgeon and medical director of the MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. modifications – eventually it won’t work.”

Which is tirzepatida used for?

Tirzepatide is currently approved by the FDA to help improve blood sugar regulation in adults with type 2 diabetes as an adjunct to diet and exercise (as of May 2022). The medication specifically helps control blood sugar and is also injected under the skin once a week. The dose is adjusted as people reach their blood sugar goals, explains the FDA.

What tirzepatida cost?

As of now, GoodRx says tirzepatide costs between $900 and about $1,200 for four pens without health insurance. However, the cost of the drug “will vary depending on insurance,” says Alan.

Stephanie Field, director of pharmaceutical operations at Corewell Health West, says patients with type 2 diabetes who qualify for co-pay assistance through Eli Lilly can pay as little as $25 a month. However, this is for patients who are taking the medication for diabetes – not for weight loss.

Is it covered by insurance?

At the moment, the drug “is only covered for patients with type 2 diabetes,” says Field, noting that “use for weight loss is considered off-label and is not covered by the patient’s insurance.” (However, that could change once the drug receives FDA approval for weight loss.)

Once tirzepatide is approved by the FDA, Dr. Ali says it’s “not likely” to be approved by most insurers. “If it is, it will be too expensive for most patients,” he says. “Hopefully that will change over time.”

Field says patients can expect the cost of tirzepatide for weight loss to be similar to other similar drugs on the market. “There are two FDA-approved GLP-1 weight-loss medications — Saxenda and Wegovy,” says Field. “Cash prices for patients can vary depending on the pharmacy, but the average is about $1,000 per month of medication.”

However, if you have a high level of insurance coverage, Dr. Stanford says the drug could be more affordable. “Otherwise the cost would be prohibitive,” she adds.

who can pay tirzepatide?

It depends. “It depends on your insurance. It also depends on your personal finances and how important this medication is to you,” says Alan. Once the drug is approved by the FDA, “some insurance may cover it for diabetes or pre-diabetes and not for weight loss,” says Alan.

How safe is tirzepatide for weight loss?

In general, the drug is “pretty safe,” says Alan. However, she adds, “we’ll know more as more people take this drug.” The FDA currently lists the following potential side effects of tirzepatide:

  • nausea
  • vomit
  • diarrhea
  • decreased appetite
  • cold
  • upper abdominal discomfort
  • abdominal pain

Nausea is a common side effect, Alan points out, but tirzepatide is still generally considered a safe option. “Always talk to your doctor to see if this medication is safe for you,” says Alan.