Half Full

Halfway There in Developing Obesity Care?

Saxenda UptakeProgress in developing obesity care options is very encouraging, and at the same time frustrating. Friday, Novo Nordisk reported on early results from introducing Saxenda — the fourth new obesity treatment in as many years — into the U.S. Uptake is encouraging, with prescriptions that are growing steadily at a volume comparable to other recent introductions.

For Novo Nordisk, this rate of uptake is particularly good because Saxenda is an injection that carries a substantial price premium over the three other new oral drugs. So Saxenda appears to be on track for sales that are as good as the best of all the previous launches.

Of course the real test will come in the long term, as progress against reimbursement hurdles and reluctance of physicians to treat obesity begins to play out. One particularly noteworthy bit of news was the mention that CVS Caremark has granted Saxenda a preferred position in its 2016 drug formulary. In a nutshell, this means better coverage for Saxenda under drug plans administered by one of the largest pharmacy benefit managers in the U.S. This news is all the more encouraging because it comes at the same time that Caremark announced they are dropping coverage altogether for dozens of widely-used drugs.

Other signs of progress include good clinical results for a once-weekly successor to Saxenda — semiglutide — and two FDA approvals in one week for new, non-surgical obesity treatments in the form of gastric balloons.

The frustrating side of the equation comes as the first company to introduce a new obesity treatment in this century — Vivus — reports financial losses linked to the slow rate at which they have seen the delivery of obesity treatment grow in the U.S. As a small company, they were depending on explosive growth in demand for their innovation. It just isn’t happening that way.

Many factors are moving in the right direction. Physicians are becoming more engaged in offering care for obesity. The arsenal of tools they can use is growing. Obstacles are slowly fading.

But at best, we’re not even halfway there in meeting the need for evidence-based obesity care.

Click here to read more on the struggles of Vivus in obesity treatment, here to read more about progress from Novo Nordisk, and here for more perspective on the newly approved gastric balloons.

Half Full, photograph © Eirik Solheim / flickr

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August 9, 2015