The popularreduced the risk of serious heart problems by 20%, according to a large, international study paid for by Novo Nordisk, the drugmaker behind the product.
Published Saturday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study included more than 17,600 participants aged 45 and older who had preexisting heart conditions. They were tracked for more than three years on average.
They took typical drugs for their heart conditions, but they were also randomly assigned to receive weekly injections of Wegovy or a dummy shot.
The study found that 569, or 6.5%, of those who got Wegovy versus 701, or 8%, of those who received the placebo had a heart attack or stroke or died from a heart-related cause during the study period. That’s an overall reduction of 20% in the risk of those outcomes, the researchers reported.
Those who took Wegovy lost about 9% of their weight and also saw saw drops in key markers of heart disease, including inflammation, cholesterol, blood sugars, blood pressure and waist circumference. The placebo group lost less than 1% of their weight.
On “CBS Mornings” Monday, CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook, who was not involved in the study, discussed the findings.
“This is an important study, it’s more than 17,000 people, 41 countries — I want to emphasize that these are people who were overweight or obese, so BMI of 27 or above, and they had some underlying heart-related issue,” he said, adding almost 70% of participants in the study had experienced a heart attack.
Serious side effects were reported in about a third of all study volunteers. About 17% in the Wegovy group and about 8% in the comparison group left the study, mostly because of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other stomach-related issues.
Experts have known for years that losing weight can improve heart health, but there hasn’t been a safe and effective obesity medication proven to reduce specific risks, Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a heart expert at the Mayo Clinic, told the Associated Press. He expects the new findings to change treatment guidelines and “dominate the conversation” for years to come.
“This is the population who needs the medicine the most,” said Lopez-Jimenez, who also had no role in the study.
The research is the first to document that an obesity medication can not only help with weight but also safely prevent a heart attack, stroke or a heart-related death in people who already have heart disease — but not diabetes. This differs from diabetes treatment, from the same drugmaker, which has been shown to reduce the risk of serious heart problems in people who have diabetes.
Novo Nordisk has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to include the heart benefits on Wegovy’s label, like on Ozempic’s.
Still, “it remains unclear” how much of the results were a benefit of losing weight or the drug itself, an editorial accompanying the study noted.
Another critique of the study is its lack of diverse representation, LaPook notes. “It was mostly white males,” he said.
And with monthly costs at about $1,300 for Wegovy, the study also raises the.
The medications are often not covered by private health insurance or subject to strict preauthorization requirements. Medicare, the government health plan for older Americans, is prohibited from covering drugs for weight loss alone. But drugmakers and obesity treatment advocates have been pushing for broader coverage, including asking Congress to pass legislation to mandate that Medicare pay for the drugs.
“I’m in battles all the time with insurance companies not paying for this group of medications in people who should absolutely be on it,” LaPook says. “Now they can’t say it’s just cosmetic, they’re showing that it actually decreases the risk of heart attack, stroke or death for the people who need it.”
At the same time, LaPook notes the study shouldn’t encourage people looking to lose a few pounds to turn to these.
“I have a lot of patients who come to me and say I want to lose that 6 to 8 pounds — that’s not the group of people who’ve been studied,” he explains. “We don’t know the long-term side effects in those people or even the effects.”
Instead, the drugs could be considered for certain patients along with other options.
“It’s not the only tool in our toolbox, we do have diet and we do have exercise, and that’s really important,” LaPook said. “For the first time we have something that’s effective, but again, you have to use it judiciously.”