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WHO considering adding obesity drugs to ‘essential’ medicines list



World Health Organization (WHO) Africa

Obesity-fighting drugs may be put for the first time on the World Health Organization’s “essential medicines list,” which is used to guide government buying choices in low- and middle-income nations, according to the U.N. Journalist was informed by the agency.

A team of WHO advisors will assess fresh medication requests for inclusion next month, with an updated essential medicine list coming in September.

Three doctors and a researcher in the United States requested that obesity drugs be considered. It applies to the active component liraglutide in Novo Nordisk’s (NOVOb.CO) obesity medicine Saxenda, which is about to go off patent, enabling for cheaper generic equivalents.

The panel might deny the proposal or seek additional proof. A decision by the WHO to add Saxenda and perhaps generics on the list would signal a shift in the health agency’s approach to global obesity.


It may also open the way for a newer, more potent therapy called Wegovy from Novo Nordisk to be approved for low- and middle-income nations in the future.

However, some public health experts advise against broadening the use of such medications as a treatment for a complicated ailment that is still little understood.

“Obesity is becoming an increasingly serious public health issue in many countries,” stated a WHO spokeswoman. “Of course, medications for the treatment of obesity are only one aspect of management; prevention is also critical.”

According to the WHO, the expert panel will review the evidence for liraglutide in the following months. In the future, they may pursue a larger examination of different forms of weight-loss therapy.


According to the WHO, approximately 650 million persons globally are obese, which is more than quadruple the average in 1975, and another 1.3 billion are overweight. 70% of the world’s population lives in low- and middle-income nations.

Expanding Access

Inclusion of obesity medications among the WHO’s essential medicines might have a significant impact on that group. According to experts, adding HIV medications to the list in 2002 aided in making them far more readily accessible to AIDS patients in developing nations.

“At the moment, there are no medications on the list that specifically target weight loss for the ongoing global burden of obesity,” wrote Dr. Sanjana Garimella of Yale New Haven Health, Dr. Sandeep Kishore of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues in a letter to the WHO requesting the addition. They did not reply to calls for comment from journalist.

They argue that, while the list includes nutritional supplements, the lack of weight-loss treatments represents a “discrepancy” in global health equity, given the increasing number of deaths in poorer countries caused by weight-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.


The once-daily injectable Saxenda has been demonstrated to help patients lose 5%-10% of their body weight. In the United States, it costs $450 per month, but in Europe, it costs $150 per month.

Wegovy, a weekly injection that costs more than $1,300 a month in the United States, has helped people lose up to 15% of their body weight. Wegovy is now in low supply, and Novo is prioritising its introduction and distribution in the United States and other rich regions.

The Danish pharmaceutical company stated in a statement that it was not engaged in the application to evaluate liraglutide for inclusion on the WHO list, but that “we welcome the WHO review and look forward to the readout and decision.”

Both medications are GLP-1 receptor agonists, which have been used to treat diabetes for many years. They deliver hunger signals to the brain and delay the pace at which the stomach empties, allowing people to feel fuller for longer. Eli Lilly & Company (LLY.N) is approaching clearance for a similar diabetic medicine for weight reduction.


There is a paucity of long-term safety and efficacy evidence for both Saxenda and Wegovy in the treatment of obesity.

According to studies, individuals will most likely need to take the medications for the rest of their lives in order to lose weight.
High-income nations are exploring different approaches to how these drugs are used, including whether they may be given by government-sponsored health systems or reimbursed by insurance, as they are for diabetes. In certain nations, its usage is restricted to the most vulnerable people.

Obesity specialist Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta of the University of Toronto believes that the phenomena of obesity in low- and middle-income nations has to be better studied in order to establish the appropriate course of action.

“Preventive strategies and sustained efforts at education and gender-focused interventions must take precedence over the use of obesity drugs, which require much more research for safety and efficacy,” he added.

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