New weight loss drugs trending with billionaires and celebrities are about to enter more American homes
Online health startup Ro is getting into weight loss medicine, offering patients the trending obesity and diabetes GLP-1 class of drugs and real-time tracking.
Using GLP-1s drug injections for weight loss has become one of the latest ways some big names in the market are shedding extra pounds. Elon Musk recently tweeted about how using Novo Nordisk's Wegovy helped him lose weight. Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin recently told CNBC's "Squawk Box" that using a different version of Novo Nordisk's same drug, Ozempic, which is most commonly associated with diabetes care, made him much less hungry.
"The weekly shot is amazing. … I started this about a year ago, it's been life changing for me," Rubin said.
Social media influencer Remi Bader said she was prescribed Ozempic after experiencing issues with insulin and weight gain.
GLP-1s — which stands for glucagon-like peptide-1 — are receptor agonists that work by imitating the effects of the GLP-1 hormone, activating GLP-1 receptors inside of the pancreas and producing more insulin inside the body. The insulin helps lower blood sugar levels, which can be helpful in managing Type 2 diabetes. GLP-1s also have been found to help with weight loss as they make individuals who use them feel fuller for a longer period of time.
It's not only the GLP-1 drugs that are helping celebrities and the wealthy, but also their ability to receive high quality clinical and obesity care that helps them lose the weight, according to Zachariah Reitano, the co-founder and CEO of telehealth company Ro. That's why his company has launched a program to offer GLP-1 drugs and corresponding medical care to individuals struggling with obesity or weight loss issues.
"I think what we're able to do now is leverage all of the technology that we have to give everyone access to something that only a few people have access to now," Reitano said in a recent interview with CNBC.
Ro's Body Program offers personalized treatment for GLP-1s and weight management. The year-long program uses a combination of GLP-1s and personal coaching. In clinical trials, these drugs have helped participants lose an average of 15% of their weight over a year.
Pairing personalized coaching with GLP-1s is the key to effective weight loss treatment, Reitano said, and helping patients maximize their results.
"I think what's really important is, yes, it's access to the medication ... but once they have the medication, we want to hold their hand throughout the entire process, and we have built the technology to be able to do that at scale," Reitano said.
With the Ro Body Program, participants are first diagnosed, entering information about their health history, any weight loss and obesity challenges, and lifestyle and diet, and then are sent an at-home lab test to obtain measures of A1C blood sugar test, cholesterol and kidney function, among other health metrics. Based on their test results and an initial consultation, a doctor may prescribe patients to start off with a low dosage of GLP-1s that is slowly ramped up over time to meet the desired dosage amount.
Diabetes, obesity and a nationwide drug controversy
Ozempic – the brand of semaglutide, a GLP-1 receptor agonist, marketed for Type 2 diabetes treatment – recently made headlines for a nationwide shortage as its use as a weight loss drug gained popularity. When Wegovy, the brand semaglutide marketed for weight management, began experiencing shortages, some using the medicine were prescribed off-brand Ozempic, makin the drug much harder to find. Many with Type 2 diabetes that relied on Ozempic to treat it have been left scrambling to find the medication. There have also been reports of people looking for weight loss help turning to multiple other drug solutions as a result of difficulty finding GLP-1 drugs.
Both obesity and Type 2 diabetes affect a large number of Americans. According to the CDC, the adult obesity rate in the United States was 41.9% in 2017, and about one in 10 people in the United States have Type 2 diabetes. Reitano said it is important to recognize both obesity and diabetes as diseases that deserve proper treatment.
"I think what we're actually going to see over the next 5 to 10 years is a weight-centric approach to metabolic health," Reitano said, who noted in a subsequent interview with CNBC's "Mad Money" on Thursday night that his father's personal experience with GLP-1 drugs was a motivating factor for his business decision. "I've seen GLPs have a tremendous impact on my dad," he said.
He told CNBC's Jim Cramer that the once a week injections do three "very, very important things" when comes to obesity. They help regulate sugar levels; they help regulate appetite; and they slow the passage of food from the stomach to the small intestine. This combination of controls has helped patients in clinical studies lose on average 15% of body weight over a year.
Novo Nordisk, Ozempic and Wegovy's manufacturer, told NBC News last week the company is still experiencing supply chain issues that will last through the month, though access to some dosages of Ozempic for patients with Type 2 diabetes has improved.
The GLP-1 drug Wegovy for weight issues or obesity is approved for individuals with a BMI of 26-plus and co-morbidities, or those with a BMI of 30-plus.
A new real-time approach to weight management
Reitano said it should not be an either/or scenario involving diabetes management of weight loss and that will change over the next decade.
"If we saw obesity as a disease, and we're both focused on preventing it but once it happens treating it and treating it as a disease, I think we're going to see an entirely different approach," he said.
Reitano said the weight loss and obesity management program fits within his company's broader goal of changing the way patients receive medical care and reach health goals, from doctor visits to pharmacy and ongoing health issue management.
"High-quality obesity care is an important part of it," he told Cramer. "Patients can't just receive these medications and be left to their own devices."
In addition to shipping the GLP-1 drug to a patient's home, the Ro Body program tracks patients in real-time with remote monitoring. That is facilitated by a cellular-connected smart scale also sent to the patient which tracks weight and sends data to an app so medical professionals can tweak dosages of the drugs to make sure the patient is receiving the right dose to achieve the weight loss results they want. Patients also receive one-to-one coaching with nurses over the year-long period and up to 24 telehealth visits with a doctor.
"The speed with which we can communicate with patients, update their plans and really be there for them and guide them through this experience, and have that serve as a really strong compliment to their overall primary care, is one of the things I think we're really excited about," Reitano said in a recent phone interview with CNBC.
Price of these drugs, though, is an issue, with Wegovy costing as much as $1,700 a month without insurance. Reitano said Ro helps guide individuals through the insurance process and to get these drugs at the lowest price, but he conceded in his "Mad Money" interview that pricing in this pharmaceutical niche "can be challenging for patients."
The Ro Body Program is the latest addition to Ro's health care offerings. The company, which ranked No. 38 on the 2022 CNBC Disruptor 50 list, started off selling men's health care products, helping to treat issues such as erectile dysfunction and hair loss, and has since expanded to provide multiple at-home services including pharmaceutical and fertility treatments.
CNBC is now accepting nominations for the 2023 Disruptor 50 list – our 11th annual look at the most innovative venture-backed companies. Learn more about eligibility and how to submit an application by Friday, Feb. 17.