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‘Game-changing’ weight-loss jab favoured by celebs like Elon Musk to be available on NHS
8 March 2023, 15:45 | Updated: 8 March 2023, 17:26
A "game changing" weight-loss jab used by celebrities is to be made available through the NHS for certain people living with obesity, amid warnings that the drug is not a "quick fix".
The drug, also known as semaglutide, works by making people feel full, which results in them eating less and losing weight.
Wegovy suppresses the appetite through mimicking hormones that makes you feel full after eating.
Last month, tech billionaire Elon Musk Twitter followers that the drug was behind his weight loss.
After a fan asked “What’s your secret… lifting weights? Eating healthy?” Mr Musk replied: “Fasting” and “Wegovy”.
A previous study found that people who were given the drug saw their weight drop by 12 percent on average after 68 weeks.
Another study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the most common side effects were nausea and diarrhoea but these were “typically transient and mild-to-moderate in severity and subsided with time”.
Adults who have at least one weight-related condition and a body mass index (BMI) of at least 35 would be eligible for the drug, which is made by Novo Nordisk.
Conditions that would make people eligible include type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, high blood pressure, dyslipidaemia (unbalanced or unhealthy cholesterol levels), obstructive sleep apnoea and heart disease.
People with a BMI of at least 30 may be able to access the medicine in some cases.
But Wegovy will only be given on prescription as part of a specialist weight management service involving input from several professionals, and for two years at most.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), which approved the drug, said it is to be used alongside a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity.
"For some people losing weight is a real challenge which is why a medicine like semaglutide is a welcome option," Nice's Helen Knight said.
"It won't be available to everyone. Our committee has made specific recommendations to ensure it remains value for money for the taxpayer, and it can only be used for a maximum of two years."
Reacting to the news, Alex Miras, professor of endocrinology at Ulster University, said: "This decision made by Nice is a pivotal moment for the treatment of people living with obesity.
"The weight loss that can be achieved with this safe medication is substantial and likely to lead to the improvement of obesity-related complications in a large number of patients."
Professor Nick Finer, from the National Centre for Cardiovascular Prevention and Outcomes at UCL, said the efficacy of the drug is "a true game changer for the medical treatment of obesity, a chronic disease that shortens life through its many complications."
But Dr Stephen Lawrence, associate clinical professor at the University of Warwick, warned: "It is important to note, however, that this medication is not a quick fix or a replacement for following a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular physical activity and healthy eating."
Charity Beat has raised concerns about the impact the drug can have on people with eating disorders.
Tom Quinn, Beat’s director of external affairs, said: “Weight-loss medications like semaglutide can be extremely attractive to people with eating disorders as they appear to provide quick results.
“However, these medications can be very dangerous as they can worsen harmful thoughts and behaviours for those unwell, or contribute to an eating disorder developing for someone who is already vulnerable.”
In February, it emerged that some high street chemists in England would sell the drug, for those suitable for it, online.
A Novo Nordisk spokesperson said: "Novo Nordisk welcomes the final Nice recommendation for Wegovy (once-weekly semaglutide 2.4mg), as an option for weight management within the NHS.
"We are working to make Wegovy available in the UK as soon as possible."