An appetite-suppressant drug will soon be available on prescription through the NHS.
But who will benefit from the weight loss drug, and is it all it is cracked up to be?
– What is the drug?
Semaglutide, also known as Wegovy, has been hailed a “game changer”.
The drug, manufactured by Danish firm Novo Nordisk, is an appetite suppressant which is delivered via a weekly injection.
Patients inject themselves weekly with the drug, which mimics the hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that is released after eating.
This makes people feel full, meaning they eat less and lose weight.
A previous study found that people who are given the drug saw their weight drop by 12% on average after 68 weeks.
Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) says the drug will only be offered on the NHS to adults with at least one weight-related condition and a body mass index (BMI) score of at least 35.
The weight-related conditions that make obese people eligible include type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, high blood pressure, dyslipidaemia (unbalanced or unhealthy cholesterol levels), obstructive sleep apnoea and heart disease.
In some cases, people with a BMI of 30 and over may be able to access the drug, which is given via a pen injector.
It is to be used alongside a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity, Nice said.
Thousands of people will be eligible when the drug becomes available.
But when the drug is available to buy privately – a number of UK pharmacies have already said they will offer the drug once it becomes available – the rules may be slightly different.
The patient information leaflet for the drug states that it can be used among anyone with a BMI score over 30 – with or without other health conditions, and among people with a BMI score of 27 to 30 who also have another weight-related health condition.
Nice said that its conditions for the NHS offer represents “value for money for the taxpayer”.
Which celebrities are thought to use it?
The drug is thought to be favoured by some celebrities.
When asked about his physique, Twitter owner Elon Musk has publicly said his secret was “fasting and Wegovy”. Reality star Kim Kardashian is also reported to have used the drug.
When will it be available in the UK?
There are reports of shortages of the drug due to its growing popularity, but the manufacturer is said to be ramping up production to meet the rise in demand. Novo Nordisk said in a statement that it was working to get the drug to the UK “as soon as possible”.
As soon as it is available commercially, the NHS has three months to implement the Nice recommendations.
– Are there side-effects?
A previous study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that nausea and diarrhoea were the most common side-effects, but these were “typically transient and mild-to-moderate in severity and subsided with time”.
– What have the experts said?
Academics described the decision as a key development for the treatment of people living with obesity, but others warned that the drug is not a “quick fix”.
Alex Miras, professor of endocrinology at Ulster University, said: “This decision made by Nice is a pivotal moment for the treatment of people living with obesity.”
And Nick Finer, honorary clinical professor at the National Centre for Cardiovascular Prevention and Outcomes at UCL, added: “The efficacy of semaglutide is a true game changer for the medical treatment of obesity, a chronic disease that shortens life through its many complications.”
But Dr Stephen Lawrence, associate clinical professor at the University of Warwick, warned the medication is “not a quick fix or a replacement for following a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular physical activity and healthy eating”.
Eating disorder charity Beat raised concerns about the drug.
Tom Quinn, Beat’s director of external affairs, said: “Weight-loss medications like semaglutide can be extremely attractive to people with eating disorders as they appear to provide quick results.
“However, these medications can be very dangerous as they can worsen harmful thoughts and behaviours for those unwell, or contribute to an eating disorder developing for someone who is already vulnerable.”
– How much will it cost?
The list price of semaglutide 0.25mg, 0.5mg and 1mg is £73.25 per pack (four pre-filled pens excluding VAT).
The dosage schedule for patients is put at an induction dose of 0.25mg, increasing every four weeks to a maintenance dose of 2.4mg.