WHO to consider adding obesity drugs to ‘essential’ medicines list

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Drugs that combat obesity could for the first time be included on the World Health Organization’s “essential medicines list,” used to guide government purchasing decisions in low- and middle-income countries, the UN agency told Reuters. A panel of advisers to the WHO will review new requests for drugs to be included next month, with an updated essential medicines list due in September.

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The request to consider obesity drugs was submitted by three doctors and a researcher in the United States. It covers the active ingredient liraglutide in Novo Nordisk’s obesity drug Saxenda, which will come off patent soon, allowing for cheaper generic versions.

The panel could reject the request or wait for more evidence. A decision by the WHO to include Saxenda and eventual generics on the list would mark a new approach to global obesity by the health agency.

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

However, some public health experts warn against introducing such medicines too broadly as a solution to a complex condition that is still not completely understood.

“Obesity is an increasingly important health problem in many countries,” said a WHO spokesperson. “Medicines for the treatment of obesity are only one aspect of management, of course, and prevention is also crucial.”

The WHO said the expert panel would consider the evidence for liraglutide over the coming months. They may also seek a broader evaluation of other types of weight-loss treatments in the future.

Over 650 million adults worldwide are obese, more than triple the rate in 1975, and roughly another 1.3 billion are overweight, according to the WHO. The majority – 70 percent - live in low- and middle-income countries.

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