Telehealth startups are going all in on weight loss drugs

Drugs used to lose weight quickly have gained attention across social media and celebrity circles over the last year, fueling a rise in digital health startups that offer online prescriptions for drugs such as Ozempic and Mounjaro, which are meant for treating diabetes.

On March 6, WeightWatchers said it would purchase telehealth company Sequence, which digitally prescribes Ozempic, in a deal worth $132 million.

Business Insider reported March 7 that weight loss app Noom launched a program last fall to prescribe patients GLP-1s, a class of drugs that includes Ozempic and Wegovy.

The program, Noom Clinical, will allow eligible users to be evaluated by a clinician for a possible GLP-1 prescription. 

"While medication is not appropriate for all Noom Clinical users, the program can offer a better chance at long-term weight loss success utilizing medication to optimize biology for those who qualify," a Noom spokesperson told Insider.

Other telehealth companies have switched up their business models entirely as new weight loss drugs have gained more attention. NextMed was founded in 2020 as a COVID-19 testing business, but in July it turned its focus to prescribing diabetes drugs, which have surged in popularity for weight loss. Ro, a startup most known for selling erectile dysfunction pills online, in January said it has also started offering GLP-1s.

Calibrate and Found are direct-to-consumer startups that also offer weight loss medications.

On Feb. 15, CBS News reported that drug manufacturer Novo Nordisk said it is experiencing "intermittent supply disruptions" for Ozempic, which is expected to last through mid-March.

According to the FDA, 1 and 2 milligram doses of Ozempic are currently available, but the 0.25 mg and 0.5 mg injectable versions remain in short supply, leading some diabetic patients to ration the medication. Wegovy faced supply issues last year but is widely available now.

The rise in easier and more accessible weight loss prescriptions has also fueled criticism. The Wall Street Journal recently analyzed telehealth companies' promotion of medications, including weight loss pills, and found that advertisements on social media highlighted the benefits and promoted the drugs for off-label uses, while excluding information about potential side effects. 

Congressional leaders have also called for more oversight of telehealth marketing, as digital health companies are not regulated under the same rules as pharmaceutical companies.

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