What Does Tirzepatide Really Mean For Obesity Medicine?

The last few weeks have been abuzz about the remarkable weight loss seen with the dual GIP/GLP-1 agonist tirzepatide in the SURMOUNT-1 study. While this degree of weight loss surpasses that of the GLP-1 analogue semaglutide by several percentage points, this is not the most important implication of these findings. 

Rather, the real implication of the SURMOUNT-1 data is, that we will soon see another major global pharmaceutical player, namely Eli Lilly, enter the obesity space. 

Over the past decade or so, the only major international player in this field has been Novo Nordisk. With the introduction of liraglutide, recently followed by the approval of semaglutide for the obesity indication, Novo Nordisk has not only played a flagship role in developing the field of obesity medicine, it has also had to bear the considerable costs associated with raising obesity awareness, medical education, engaging payers, supporting obesity NGOs, and generally promoting the notion of obesity needing to be managed as a chronic disease. 

While Novo Nordisk must be commended for their remarkable efforts in promoting a better understanding of obesity as a chronic disease, much more remains to be done in this regard. Thus, having another major company enter the field of obesity medicine should considerably increase the resources that can be put towards professional and public education and supporting the work of the various NGOs working on this issue. 

For those, who are are perhaps sceptical about industry involvement in physician education or support for NGOs, it is important to remind ourselves of the fact that industry actually provides much of the evidence from large randomised controlled trials on which we base our guidelines and treatment algorithms.

Moreover – like it or not – industry also supports substantial academic research, investigator-initiated trials, training of new professionals, and a host of other activities that ultimately benefit our patients. In fact, I cannot think of a single disease area in which most significant therapeutic advances are not largely attributable to industry efforts. 

We perhaps also need to remind ourselves that the pharmaceutical industry, in contrast to the free-for-all-anything-goes predatory billion-dollar “weight-loss industry”, underlies strict regulatory oversight and is held to ethical codes and standards that provides a transparent and effective framework for their promotional activities. 

Thus, my expectation is that with the entrance of another major global player like Eli Lilly into the obesity area, we will not only see much-needed competition but also a major expansion of funding and support for activities that will ultimately benefit those living with obesity. 

Finally, I can only hope that with the successful development of novel medications like semaglutide and tirzepatide, other major pharmaceutical companies will now take heart at the success of Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly and finally venture into this space. 

Despite the fact that these companies have clearly raised the bar for what is now possible with effective anti-obesity medication, hopefully, more major companies will make the necessary investments into this area of medicine – which has been underfunded and largely ignored to the detriment of the vast number of people living with obesity who have had to wait far too long for advances in this important therapeutic area. 

Berlin, D