GLP-1 drugs have captured the general public’s interest over the past two years and redefined how weight loss is discussed and treated in this country.

While that has been a boon to the bottom line of the dominant players in the ‘diabesity’ space — Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly — what does the ascendance of GLP-1 drugs mean for other pharma companies focused on diabetes and weight management? 

Could the unparalleled success of these medications from two pharma giants ultimately be a hindrance to other, smaller drugmakers?

Not necessarily, according to Currax Pharmaceuticals CEO George Hampton.

He told MM+M in a recent interview that when he evaluates the impact of GLP-1 drugs on the pharma industry, he is reminded of the old adage: a rising tide lifts all boats.

“Thank goodness that Big Pharma companies with great products are finally in the weight loss space,” he said. 

For too long, the pharma industry ignored treating obesity as a chronic disease, which contributed to decades-long stigmas around weight gain, Hampton said. Now, however, these drugs are transforming the dynamic and have even gone into short supply due to so much demand.

That said, where does Contrave (Naltrexone/bupropion), Currax’s fixed dose weight loss pill, fit into the GLP-1 phenomenon?

Hampton said no single medication is going to be the magic bullet to cure a chronic, multifactorial disease like obesity, which means Contrave can remain a pragmatic option for patients seeking to lose weight for several reasons.

The first is that since the leading GLP-1 options are injectables and the wait for an oral GLP-1 continues, weight loss pills like Contrave will have an audience of those uncomfortable with needles or the well-documented side effects of those drugs.

Contrave also has the benefit of a lower, set price: patients who utilize the drugmaker’s CurAccess offering can get the drug for no more than $99 per month. GLP-1s can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which has made affording the drug another issue for patients, including those that have commercial insurance.

Insurance coverage of obesity drugs has been a long-standing dilemma for patients, providers and drugmakers, but that might be changing.

The recent decision by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to allow Medicare Part D plans to cover Novo’s Wegovy for enrollees who have serious cardiovascular issues and use the drug to treat those chronic symptoms has convinced many that payers are likely to expand coverage of obesity drugs going forward.

In a world where issues around accessing these drugs have become all too commonplace, Hampton said CMS’ message, even if it only applies to a specific, small patient cohort, sends a strong message to the rest of the industry.  

“My product doesn’t benefit from that [decision,] but I love that it happened,” he said. 

Hampton also commended Lilly for the launch of its LillyDirect, noting that he expects the telehealth offering to take what CurAccess has accomplished and scale it for patients across the country. 

The obesity epidemic has worsened as a result of limited access to proven treatments, he noted, which could be remedied by the entry of non-traditional players like Amazon and Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drugs.

For all of the momentum surrounding GLP-1s and the ongoing destigmatization of obesity, Hampton noted that the industry is “making large strides in a very long race.” He urged other drugmakers to follow the lead of Novo and Lilly by making concerted investments in weight loss treatments and continuing the progress made in tackling the root causes of obesity.