On January 1, 2023, the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes aired a segment on Obesity. It featured a promising new weight loss medication that is in short supply and often is not covered by insurance. This was a good piece, but it made me a uneasy. Is weight loss as simple as taking a shot once a week? The medication is semaglutide and it comes as Wegovy and Ozempic. Wegovy is approved for weight loss and Ozempic for Type 2 diabetes; although both are the same drug.
The 60 Minute section reminded me of the quote, “There’s a pill for every ill.” Wegovy’s price on GoodRx is ~ $1400 per month (~ $16,800 per year). The segment seemed focused on pushing this medication. 60 Minutes was in essence a bully pulpit for PhRMA. Maybe semaglutide is a great breakthrough but the piece appeared heavy-handed.
There’s another quote I like.
Every new medication goes through three phases.
First it’s a panacea – really good for all its indications
Next it’s a poison – we learn of its side-effects. Beware.
Finally, it’s pedestrian. Just ho hum; not that special.
In 1970, I attended an airing of “A Matter of Fat,” a National Film Board of Canada documentary on obesity (1 hour and 38 minutes) at the University of British Columbia. It was memorable and covered much the same material that the 60 Minute piece did. I watched it again, 52 years later, and find it more even-handed and nuanced than the 60 Minute’s piece.
With regards to obesity, I believe we still have a long ways to go. As health care professionals we have to face our own implicit biases and recognize that it is rarely a person’s fault that they are obese. But, is the answer weekly semaglutide or a similar agent? I don’t know. The same promises were made for the phenothiazides when they were approved for schizophrenia 70 years ago.
What is clear is that promotional pieces such as the 60 Minutes segment will be used to stimulate interest in, and push sakes of, semaglutide until that time, down the road, when it, too, will be found to be unexciting. By then, there will be a new kid on the block. Obesity is just too big a problem for PhRMA to ignore.