Weight-loss drug Wegovy helped Rebecca Vogt achieve a major goal – shedding the weight she had not managed to drop since giving birth. But, after a particularly brutal day in the bathroom suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea, she called it quits.
“The nausea is just so awful with this medication,” said Vogt, who had endured daily sickness for months.
After stopping taking the weekly injection, Vogt, a 48-year-old customer service representative in Buffalo, New York, said she regained the 27 pounds (12.2 kilograms) she had lost.
Some U.S. and European biotech companies are hoping to offer an alternative to Vogt and other people suffering side-effects.
More than a dozen small, privately-owned companies are developing drugs that hold the promise of Wegovy-like weight loss without the downside of nausea, according to U.S. investment bank Stifel (SF.N), which published reports in March and July on the obesity market.
These experimental drugs function slightly or entirely differently than the class of drugs like Wegovy, which work by mimicking the GLP-1 gut hormone that reduces appetite. For this reason, they appear to avoid the side-effect of nausea, according to interviews with executives from three of the companies.
Some of these companies have been working on their drugs for years. Executives from four of them told Reuters the huge amount of attention the obesity market is receiving due to Wegovy’s success could be a game-changer for their own drug development prospects.
They said the boom in interest is putting them in a more favourable position to raise funds from potential investors, as they seek a slice of a market estimated to be worth as much as $100 billion by the end of the decade.
“The attention is very welcome,” said Jayson Dallas, chief executive of Rivus Pharmaceuticals in the United States. His company, founded in 2019, is developing a drug that disrupts the body’s mitochondria, affecting energy consumption, so that a person taking the drug would lose weight if they eat the same amount of food.
Investors are taking note of the demand from people like Vogt.
“The next frontier of obesity treatment would be to achieve Wegovy or Mounjaro-like efficacy with less side effects and less muscle mass loss,” said Noushin Irani, a portfolio manager at Deutsche Bank’s (DBKGn.DE) asset management unit DWS (DWSG.DE), which had 841 billion euros ($914.34 billion) under management as of end-March.
Mounjaro is Eli Lilly’s (LLY.N) obesity drug. The company said in April that it expects the drug to be approved as an obesity treatment by the FDA as early as late 2023. It leads to 22.5% weight loss, according to a Lilly trial published last year.