Weight loss drug semaglutide linked to better heart health, but high costs may limit its impact

Semaglutide, a weight loss drug recently linked to key cardiovascular benefits for obese and overweight patients, may have a limited impact due to its significant price tag. At least, that’s the perspective of Airfinity, a disease forecasting company that uses predictive health data to anticipate how certain developments could impact the market at large.

Back in August, Novo Nordisk, which sells subcutaneous treatments of semaglutide 2.4 mg under the brand name Wegovy, shared initial findings from the SELECT trial that suggested the medication could help obese and overweight patients reduce their risk of a major adverse cardiovascular event (MACE) by  up to 20%. Weeks later, researchers at ESC Congress 2023, the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology, presented research on semaglutide’s potential to improve outcomes among certain heart failure patients.

The team at Airfinity focused on those early SELECT trial results, estimating that 63 patients would need to be treated with semaglutide over a three-year period to prevent one heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular death. Because the current Wegovy price tag is $1,350 per month, researchers wrote that the cost of treating those 63 patients would be approximately $1.1 million—and that’s even after considerable rebates were included.

The team at Airfinity said this could potentially scare away insurance providers and have a negative impact on utilization of the drug.

“The high price tag of semaglutide is going to hinder wider usage of the drug as insurers and government health providers will remain reluctant to shoulder the costs for large population groups,” Bhaskar Bhushan, PhD, Airfinity’s senior director of cardiometabolic disease, said in a prepared statement. “The key will be targeting the drug at a smaller highest-risk population group in which its benefits are likely to be much more cost effective. Insurers and other payers will also be more likely to approve treatment in such high-risk patients, such as those with combined coronary and peripheral arterial disease.”

Bhushan also noted that semaglutide’s potential impact could go well beyond reducing MACE rates. If it can help obese and overweight patients lose weight, for instance, such changes could help their long-term health in a number of ways.

Novo Nordisk did not immediately respond to a Cardiovascular Business request for comment on these findings. 

Michael Walter
Michael Walter, Managing Editor

Michael has more than 16 years of experience as a professional writer and editor. He has written at length about cardiology, radiology, artificial intelligence and other key healthcare topics.

Around the web

Radiology can participate only sporadically in CMS’s current conception of value-based care. Why?

Although advanced imaging exams have proven benefits in defining disease severity, new data indicate that more sophisticated studies might not impact outcomes as much as previously thought. 

While the ACC/AHA 2021 Chest Pain Assessment Guidelines included cardiac CT angiography as a top level recommendation, gaps in evidence still need to be filled.

Trimed Popup
Trimed Popup