SHOREWOOD, Wis. — A new prescription medication is dominating a weight loss market crowded with pills, powders, cleanses, juices, and more. In June of 2021, the FDA approved Wegovy (semaglutide), a weekly injectible.
According to the federal agency, it's "the first approved drug for chronic weight management in adults with general obesity or overweight since 2014."
"I think we started filling prescriptions for Wegovy in July of last year," said pharmacist Jon Phillips with Sage Specialty Pharmacy in Shorewood. "It's been very busy."
Phillips has about 50 to 60 patients currently taking the new weight loss medication. He said patients start with lower doses and work their way up.
"That's to help reduce the nausea side effect that can occur with this," said Phillips. "We've had lots of patients that in the first five to six months have lost 20 to 30 pounds easily."
"What we've seen in the clinical trials is that people who have been on Wegovy for a year have lost up to thirty percent of their body weight, which is huge. That's a big deal."
Phillips says the prescription is a game-changer and it's needed. The obesity epidemic is showing no signs of slowing down. The latest CDC data says more than 70 percent of American adults are overweight.
"It works on a certain receptor and it acts to reduce your hunger. It slows the speed of emptying in the stomach, which makes you feel fuller for a longer period of time and you seem to feel fuller faster," he explained.
Doctor Tammy Kindel is the Director of Adult and Adolescent Bariatric Surgery Program at Froedtert & MCW health network.
"We as clinicians are desperate for good, safe options," Dr. Kindel said.
She stresses the medication is not just a quick fix to losing weight.
"It takes time and takes daily effort, and our patients taking it know that. It's a comprehensive approach with diet, exercise, and even sometimes adding in surgery," said Kindel.
"The recommendations are around 500 kilocalories per day reduction in daily intake and then with increased activity,'" she said.
However, the cost for many patients is a concern.
"Cost and access are our biggest concerns right now. Effectiveness and safety profile looks much better, but it's hard to get this as a treatment for patients because it's so cost prohibitive," said Dr. Kindel.
No matter the dose, Wegovy's wholesale price is about $1,300 per month.
Phillips said some of his Medicaid patients have received full prescription coverage with prior authorization. Also, he said his pharmacy has had success in helping patients with private insurance navigate better coverage. He feels this new prescription doesn't just benefit the patient, but the insurer.
"They're not going to be paying as much for hypertension drugs. They're not going to be paying as much for people getting strokes. All of those kinds of things that happen because of being overweight," said Phillips.
Like with any medication, not everyone is a fan. Online people have complained of no weight loss, bad nausea, and hair loss.
That's certainly not impacting the drug's popularity.
Wegovy's drug manufacturer said its unprecedented product demand caused supply shortages and that until it can meet demand it's asking healthcare providers to not start new patients on the medication.
"There are some options out there. There's another drug called Saxenda which is used for the same thing, but it's a daily injection," Phillips said.
Earlier this month, the FDA approved a medication called Mounjaro. While right now it's only approved to treat patients with type 2 diabetes, that's how Wegovy started.