Weight-Loss Drug May Treat Sleep Apnea

Zepbound injection
Zepbound injection | Image by Eli Lilly

Eli Lilly announced last week that its latest weight-loss drug, Zepbound, may also benefit individuals with sleep apnea.

The drugmaker has been running clinical trials testing the effectiveness of Zepbound, which the FDA approved to treat obesity in November, in treating a breathing disorder affecting an estimated 39 million Americans. A news release indicated that a phase-3 trial involving over 400 obese people with sleep apnea showed that taking Zepbound for 52 weeks reduced the severity of their symptoms by nearly two-thirds.

Sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked during sleep. This interferes with breathing — often manifesting as snoring — and can lead to serious heart, metabolic, and other health complications if not treated. The risk of acquiring sleep apnea grows as people age; however, being overweight or obese can also make a person more likely to develop this disorder.

Obesity is a massive public health issue in the United States, where its prevalence among both children and adults continues to grow. Yet there have been several initiatives to make weight-loss drugs more available to people, with companies like Costco even providing low-cost options to open up this treatment option to what many consider to be a chronic disease.

While losing weight has generally been shown to alleviate sleep apnea symptoms, Dr. Jeff Emmick, Eli Lilly’s senior vice president of product development, touted Zepbound’s “potential to be the first pharmaceutical treatment for the … disease,” per the news release. Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, the company’s chief scientific officer, echoed these sentiments.

“We were delighted to see this really large effect that, to my knowledge, is the largest effect ever seen in this disease,” he told CNN, remarking on the trial’s preliminary findings.

Elli Lilly will present its official findings on the efficacy of Zepbound for sleep apnea patients this June at the American Diabetes Association meeting.

As previously covered by The Dallas Express, the weight-loss drug differs from other GLP-1 class medications, such as Ozempic or Wegovy, due to tirzepatide being its active ingredient. There is growing evidence that semaglutide-based medications may lose their effectiveness over time, making newer drugs like Zepbound, which targets two hormones rather than just one, potentially better at breaking through weight-loss plateaus.

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