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Weight-Loss Drug Shows Potential to Treat Sleep Apnea

A weight-loss drug has shown potential in treating patients with sleep apnea, CNBC reports.

What’s going on: Pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly’s Zepbound, which is used to treat obesity and diabetes, “was more effective than a placebo at reducing the severity of obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, in patients with obesity after a year, according to preliminary data” from two late-stage clinical trials.

  • In October 2022, the Food and Drug Administration gave the medication a “fast track” designation for patients with moderate to severe OSA and obesity.

Why it’s important: “The results are an early sign of hope for the estimated 80 million patients in the U.S. suffering from OSA, which refers to interrupted breathing during sleep due to narrowed or blocked airways. Around 20 million of those people have moderate-to-severe forms of the disease, but 85% of OSA cases go undiagnosed, according to Eli Lilly.”

  • Complications of the condition include excessive fatigue, high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure and type 2 diabetes—and treatment options are limited.

Meeting an “unmet need”: “Addressing this unmet need head-on is critical, and while there are pharmaceutical treatments for the excessive sleepiness associated with OSA, [Zepbound] has the potential to be the first pharmaceutical treatment for the underlying disease,” Eli Lilly Senior Vice President of Product Development Jeff Emmick said Wednesday.

  • The sleep apnea trial data means that Medicare may be able to cover the drug, as under new FDA guidance, Medicare can pay for weight-loss drugs if they are used for more than weight loss alone.
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