1st study finds surge of weight loss drugs in health system

A California health system has noted an "exponential" increase in patients using Wegovy, Mounjaro and other similar drugs for weight loss, according to a first-of-its-kind study.

Researchers tracked 87,935 patients' EHRs throughout University of California Health, a six-hospital system, between 2014 and 2022. They evaluated medication fills for glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists, which mimic a gut hormone that suppresses appetite and promotes a feeling of fullness. 

The GLP-1s included in the study were Adlyxin, Byetta, Mounjaro, Ozempic, Rybelsus, Saxenda, Trulicity, Victoza and Wegovy. Only Saxenda and Wegovy are approved for weight management — the rest are Type 2 diabetes drugs.

During the first year each medication was available, the mean monthly growth rate was 85% for Ozempic, Wegovy, Rybelsus and Saxenda. Wegovy's rate of growth was more than 100%, and Mounjaro's exceeded 200% for the first seven months. 

The researchers said the results show a "substantial shift in utilization patterns," which could affect access — many GLP-1s indicated for Type 2 diabetes are currently in shortage — and disrupt the healthcare industry's financial profile. 

This monetary shift can go either way, since these products can cost about $1,000 for one patient's monthly supply and most payers do not cover weight loss medications, thus increasing personal healthcare costs. On the other hand, "overweight and obesity-related medical costs are estimated at more than $92 billion annually in the United States," the researchers wrote, meaning the sudden uptake of these therapies could result in lower medical costs for cardiovascular disease-related morbidity and mortality. 

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California-Irvine, and the results were published Oct. 10 in Science Direct.  

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