What is Ozempic’s newest competitor, Zepbound?

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While Eli Lilly and Co.’s new drug, Zepbound, doesn’t have the same name recognition as Ozempic, it still represents a changing landscape in weight loss management that one pharmaceutical company is trying to cash in on. Despite the popularity of new weight-loss drugs like Ozempic, consumers say high costs and severe shortages create barriers to receiving treatment. But drug brands say they have an answer: more drugs.

On November 8, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Zepbound, making the injectable drug available as a weight loss treatment. The drug, also known as tezepatide, is marketed under the brand name Mounjaro but is only approved by the FDA for diabetes treatment. Zepbound’s new name is a direct competitor to Novo Nordisk’s weight-loss drug Wegovy.

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Similar to other popular weight loss drugs, including Ozempic, Rybelsus, and Wegovy, Zepbound mimics GLP-1, a hormone in the stomach that regulates blood sugar levels and appetite. However, unlike semaglutide, Zepbound is a dual agonist, meaning it also mimics the body’s GIP hormone (glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide), another naturally occurring gut hormone. Helps in the production of insulin. Zepbound is injected subcutaneously once a week, and the dose is slowly increased over 20 weeks until the patient reaches the target dose. According to the FDA, the maximum dose of Zepbound is 15 mg per week.

While Zepbound debuts in an already crowded market, it has a slight advantage in terms of usage. According to the FDA, trial participants lost an average of 18% of their body weight. (Patients in the Wegovy trial lost an average of 15% of their weight, according to CNBC.) But Zepbound still suffers from many of the common side effects of GLP-1 drugs, such as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, stomach pain, burping, hair loss and gastroesophageal cancer. Reflux disease, according to the FDA.

Zepbounds’ approval comes amid rapid growth in chronic weight-loss drugs. When Ozemipc was first approved in 2017, the drug was only available to people with diabetes. But the drug and others like it quickly became ideal for online weight management after users also reported faster weight loss. By 2020, Ozempic has gained a reputation as a “miracle drug” on the Internet. Parent company Novo Nordisk soon released Wegovy, a drug with the same active ingredient as Ozempic but approved by the FDA specifically for weight loss.

But the new approvals are not enough to curb growing demand for these drugs. As of September 2023, both Ozempic and Wegovy are experiencing national shortages. The lack of medication not only increases drug cravings but also prompts desperate patients to seek out illicit or compounded drugs. In November, Novo Nordisk announced it had filed at least 12 legal complaints against the company, claiming it sells drugs containing FDA-banned chemicals, misleading branding and potentially harmful ingredients. But the warnings haven’t stopped patients from seeking out telemedicine companies, or pharmaceutical companies from ramping up their efforts to address nationwide medical shortages. The FDA approved Zepbound under the organization’s Fast Track program, which expedites the review and approval of drugs that treat serious diseases or have substantial unmet medical needs. While the arrival of Zepbounds could alleviate some stress for patients still waiting for a prescription for Ozempic, its equally high price (more than $1,000 per month) means eager customers may still take more risky routes to obtain the drug.

Dr. John Sharretts, director of the FDA’s Division of Diabetes, said in a statement that obesity and overweight are serious conditions that may be linked to some of the leading causes of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Today’s approval addresses an unmet medical need given the rising rates of obesity and overweight in the United States.

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