Two New Studies Suggest a Sleep Apnea Benefit for Tirzepatide

The Sleeping ChurchYesterday, Eli Lilly and Company announced topline results for two studies of tirzepatide in people with obesity and sleep apnea. Both in people who were using CPAP devices and in those who were not, the year-long studies yielded results that independent sleep medicine researchers described as “awesome” and “phenomenal.”

Clinical scientists will present the details of these studies and their results at the Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association in June.

Armed with these positive results, Lilly plans to ask FDA for a new indication for the benefits of tirzepetide in people with obesity and sleep apnea. The agency has already granted fast-track status to Lilly for this indication. This designation means that FDA believes the condition is serious and the new drug has potential to fill an important unmet medical need.

Serious Problem, Few Options

Moderate to severe sleep apnea is serious and surprisingly common – affecting more than 20 million Americans. It is serious because it can not only cause people to fall asleep during the day, but it also leads to serious heart disease and strokes. It can cut a person’s life short.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when something repeatedly blocks a person’s airway, stops them from breathing normally, and causes them to briefly awaken to resume breathing. Obesity is one of the most common factors that contributes to it, because excess fat is a source of blockage for the airway.

About 40 percent of people with obesity have sleep apnea and 70 percent of people with sleep apnea have obesity. But roughly 85 percent of people with sleep apnea have received no diagnosis of it. In short, it most often goes untreated because the treatment options are not great.

The most common treatment is a medical device called a CPAP machine, but these devices engender a love/hate response. People love the medical benefits. But they hate using the machine and everything that goes with with it.

As we have also noted recently, gastric bypass surgery can be remarkably effective for resolving sleep apnea. But unfortunately, the utilization is low.

One More Reason to Treat Obesity

These phenomenal results with tirzepatide for relieving sleep apnea tell us again that treating obesity has great value. Not everyone with sleep apnea has it because of obesity. But for those who do, these data suggest the potential for a remarkable benefit.

This is good news.

Click here for Lilly’s report of topline results, here, here, and here for further reporting on this welcome news.

The Sleeping Church, painting by William Hogarth / WikiArt

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April 18, 2024