Semaglutide treatments sold under brand names such as Ozempic, Wegovy, and Rybelsus have gained traction in recent months as celebrities use the drug to suppress appetite and slow gastric emptying, phenomena which make users feel fuller for longer periods of time. Barclays Head of European Equity Research Emily Field said in a research note provided to CNBC that the substance, which is administered with a once-weekly injection and typically used for weight management among people with type 2 diabetes, could see $200 billion in sales by 2030.
“Immuno-oncology was the story of the last decade. It feels like obesity is the story of this decade,” Field told the outlet. The analyst initially predicted that semaglutide treatments could constitute a $100 billion market, but updated her estimate this week.
Some 650 million adults, 340 million adolescents, and 40 million children across the world are clinically obese, according to data from the World Health Organization. Half of the global population is forecasted to be either overweight or obese by 2035, according to an analysis from the World Obesity Foundation, creating a sizable opportunity for pharmaceutical companies if current perceptions of weight loss treatments were to shift.
Morgan Stanley Managing Director Mark Purcell said in another investor note that the obesity medicine market could reach $54 billion within the next seven years. He contended that “the treatment of obesity is on the cusp of moving into mainstream primary care management” and noted that a similar precedent exists for medicines designed to treat high blood pressure, which expanded from a new development to a $30 billion market several decades ago.
“Obesity has been viewed and treated mainly as a symptom of lifestyle choices. Diet, exercise and surgical intervention were the only options for addressing the condition and its associated health risks, such as heart disease,” the report said. “But with a greater understanding of obesity’s root causes, it is now classified medically as a chronic disease. This shift has helped spur new research into developing treatments, including a range of next-generation medications to manage weight, thereby preventing the illnesses that obesity causes.”
Purcell noted that 7% of the 650 million obese people in the world are diagnosed and referred for medical treatment, a statistic which he forecasted could nearly quadruple by 2035.
An increased reliance on obesity drugs among overweight Americans could create significant burdens for public health insurance programs such as Medicare, which is currently prohibited by law from covering prescriptions for weight loss, but could soon be “compelled to cover antiobesity medications,” according to a perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine. Semaglutide treatments currently carry an annual price per user of $13,600 after rebates and discounts, meaning that Medicare could pay for $27 billion in obesity prescriptions each year if 10% of the obese adults older than 60 were to take the treatments.
Other research has indicated that patients must continue taking semaglutide treatments in order to avoid regaining weight. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the typical participant lost nearly 11% of their body weight after 20 weeks of taking injections; over the next 48 weeks, however, those who ceased the treatments saw 7% increases in body weight, while those who continued saw 8% further declines.