Wegovy could prevent up to 1.5 million heart attacks, strokes over 10 years, study says

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A selection of injector pens for the Wegovy weight loss drug are shown in this photo illustration in Chicago, Illinois, March 31, 2023.
Jim Vondruska | Reuters

Novo Nordisk‘s blockbuster weight loss injection Wegovy could prevent up to 1.5 million heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events in the U.S. over 10 years, according to a study released this week. 

Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, also found that Wegovy could result in 43 million fewer Americans with obesity over a decade. Notably, the study was partly funded by Novo Nordisk. 

The study results complement the initial data the Danish company released last week from a large clinical trial, which found that Wegovy slashed the risk of serious heart problems and heart-related death by 20%. 

Novo Nordisk’s trial studied overweight or obese patients with established cardiovascular disease, while UC Irvine’s study examined similar patients, albeit without the disease. 

Together, the results suggest that Wegovy and, likely, similar obesity drugs have significant health benefits beyond shedding unwanted pounds. Physicians and Wall Street analysts hope that could eventually put more pressure on insurers to cover obesity medications, which cost more than $1,000 a month.

“It is one of the biggest advances in the obesity and cardiovascular medicine world,” said Nathan Wong, who led the study and is director of the Heart Disease Prevention Program in UC Irvine’s division of cardiology. “We now have a weight control therapy that also significantly reduces cardiovascular events beyond the diabetes population where it was originally studied.” 

Researchers based their projections on Novo Nordisk’s STEP 1 trial, which showed Wegovy helped patients lose 15% of their body weight and also resulted in lower cardiovascular risk factors.

The study estimated that 93 million U.S. adults would meet the eligibility criteria for the STEP 1 trial, which studied people who are overweight or obese and excluded those with Type 2 diabetes. 

Researchers projected that nearly half, or 43 million people, would no longer have obesity after treatment with Wegovy for 10 years. 

An estimated 83 million Americans without established cardiovascular disease would also experience heart health benefits after taking Wegovy for a decade. 

Wegovy would reduce the risk of serious heart problems in that population by 17.8%, which translates to 1.5 million preventable heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events. 

The analysis did not estimate the additional events that might be prevented among eligible adults with established cardiovascular disease. 

Wegovy and Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drug Ozempic sparked a weight loss industry gold rush last year for helping patients lose unwanted weight. They are part of a class of drugs called GLP-1 agonists, which mimic a hormone produced in the gut to suppress a person’s appetite. 

But Novo Nordisk is grappling with supply constraints that have led to shortages of both drugs. 

There are also reports of patients who had suicidal and self-harm thoughts after taking Wegovy and other weight loss drugs, which raised questions about the unintended and potentially life-threatening side effects of the treatments

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