The WHO is considering adding anti-obesity drugs to its list of ‘essential medicines’

Drugs to fight obesity are being considered for the first time for the World Health Organization’s “Necessary Medicines List,” which guides government purchasing decisions in low- and middle-income countries, the UN agency told Reuters.

A panel of advisers to WHO will review new applications for medicines over the next month, with an updated list of key medicines due in September.

The application to consider anti-obesity drugs was submitted by three physicians and one researcher in the United States. It covers the active ingredient liraglutide in Saxenda, Novo Nordisk’s anti-obesity drug, whose patent protection is about to be lifted, allowing for cheaper generic versions.

The panel could deny the request or wait for further evidence. A WHO decision to add Saxenda and possible generics to the adult-only list would mark a new approach by the health authority to global obesity.

It could also pave the way for a newer, more powerful treatment from Novo Nordisk called Wegovy, which will be recommended for low- and middle-income countries in the future.


However, some public health experts warn against introducing such drugs too broadly as a solution to a complex condition that is not yet fully understood.

“We believe it’s still a work in progress,” WHO nutrition director Francesco Branca said at a news conference on Wednesday, referring to the use of drugs to treat obesity.

He said there were still issues with liraglutide’s cost, as well as the fact that it hadn’t been used long enough, making it unlikely for inclusion on the list, but it was up to the expert committee to review the evidence and decide.

“At the same time, WHO is investigating the use of weight-loss drugs … as part of a systematic review of guidelines for children and adolescents,” he said.

According to WHO, over 650 million adults worldwide are obese, more than three times the number in 1975, and around another 1.3 billion are overweight. The majority of obese and overweight people – 70% – live in low- and middle-income countries.

A player is seen during his ‘Futbol de Peso’ (Football of Weight) soccer match, a league for overweight men who want to improve their health through soccer and nutritional advice, in Mexico September 16, 2017. (REUTERS/Daniel Becerrill)

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The inclusion of anti-obesity drugs in the WHO Essential Medicines List could be of great importance to this population. Experts say the listing of HIV drugs in 2002 helped make them much more widely available to AIDS patients in poorer countries.

“Currently, there are no drugs on the (list) specifically targeting weight loss for the ongoing global burden of obesity,” wrote US researcher Dr. Sanjana Garimella of Yale New Haven Health and Dr. Sandeep Kishore of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues to WHO to request the addition. They did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

They argue that although the list includes mineral supplements for nutritional deficiencies, the lack of weight-loss treatments represents a “discrepancy” in global health equity, given the increasing number of deaths in poorer countries that are accelerated by weight-related diseases, including heart disease and diabetes .

Saxenda, a once-a-day injection, has been shown to help people lose 5% to 10% of their body weight for $450 a month in the United States and $150 a month in Europe.

People using Wegovy, a weekly injection that costs more than $1,300 a month in the United States, have lost up to 15% of their weight. For now, Wegovy is in short supply and Novo is prioritizing launch and distribution in the US and other affluent markets.


The Danish drugmaker said in a statement it was not involved in the application to consider liraglutide for inclusion on the WHO list, adding: “We welcome the review by the WHO and look forward to the ad and.” Decision.”

Both drugs belong to a class of drugs called GLP-1 receptor agonists, which have been used to treat diabetes for years. They affect hunger signals to the brain and slow the rate at which a person’s stomach empties, making them feel full for longer. Eli Lilly and Co has a similar diabetes drug that’s close to approval for weight loss.

Long-term data on safety and efficacy in obesity are lacking for both Saxenda and Wegovy. Studies suggest that people will likely need to take the medication for the rest of their lives to maintain the weight.

High-income countries have different approaches to using these drugs, including whether they can be prescribed by government-sponsored health systems or covered by insurance, as is the case with diabetes. In some countries, their use is reserved only for the most vulnerable groups.

Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta, an obesity expert at the University of Toronto, said the obesity phenomenon in low- and middle-income countries needs to be better understood to determine the best course of action

“Preventive strategies and sustained efforts to educate, gender-specific interventions must take precedence over the use of anti-obesity drugs, which require much more research for safety and efficacy,” he said.

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