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The weight loss drug Wegovy may do more than help people lose weight

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The maker of Wegovy is claiming the weight loss drug can also cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: It's no secret that Wegovy, like its counterpart Ozempic, is in high demand. These drugs are very effective at helping people control appetite and manage weight. Now, Novo Nordisk, the maker of Wegovy, has results from a five-year study that show people with obesity or who are overweight that take the drug have about a 20% reduced risk of having a major cardiac event, such as a heart attack or stroke. Here's physician Steven Nissen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic who was not involved in the study.

STEVEN NISSEN: This is a very promising result, but how promising will depend on other things.

AUBREY: The results of the study, which included about 17,000 adults, have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. And Dr. Nissen says key details such as potential risks are not included in the company's press release. He says the reduction in heart attacks and strokes seems very significant.

NISSEN: We now know that there is a benefit, and that's great, but we don't know what the risks are. And it's always about benefit versus risk with any drug, and we need to see all of that.

AUBREY: Dr. Nissen is studying a similar drug, Mounjaro, in an ongoing clinical trial. Dr. Pamela Brandt of Inova Health System treats patients with obesity and says Wegovy does have some common side effects.

PAMELA BRANDT: People feel full much more quickly but that can also lead to nausea or an increase in acid reflux or feeling just uncomfortably full.

AUBREY: Rare side effects include the risk of pancreatitis and, in rodent studies, a risk of thyroid tumors. So doctors screen patients for a family history of a specific kind of thyroid cancer. The findings of the new study come amid a debate about whether Medicare should pay for the blockbuster weight loss drugs. And Dr. Brandt says the new research shows that weight loss for these patients is not about vanity or appearances. It's about preventing disease.

BRANDT: The whole goal of treating people to help them achieve weight loss is to make them healthier. So seeing that they actually have a decreased risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes, that's what's really important.

AUBREY: Brandt says she looks forward to seeing all the details and what could be a landmark study.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF COSMONKEY'S "SAN MARINO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Allison Aubrey
Allison Aubrey is a Washington-based correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She has reported extensively on the coronavirus pandemic since it began, providing near-daily coverage of new developments and effects. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.
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