UK health minister: Lilly weight-loss drug could help thousands

By Ludwig Burger and Maggie Fick

LONDON (Reuters) -Eli Lilly’s new weight-loss treatment, approved by the British health regulator on Wednesday, has the potential to benefit thousands of obese Britons and could help the state-run National Health Service save billions of pounds, the health secretary said.

U.S. and British regulators on Wednesday gave the thumbs up to Lilly’s weight-loss treatment Zepbound, also known as Mounjaro or tirzepatide, paving the way for a powerful new rival to Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy in addressing record obesity rates.

“Mounjaro has the potential to help thousands of people living with obesity and support those suffering from weight-related illnesses – if used alongside diet and physical activity,” Health Secretary Steve Barclay said in a statement.

“Tackling obesity could help cut waiting lists and save the NHS billions of pounds,” he said.

Barclay said further approvals were needed before the drug can be covered by the NHS.

When asked when the drug would be available for weight loss in the UK, Lilly would not commit to a launch date.

“Before launching a new treatment Lilly needs to ensure that it can appropriately supply the medicine, considering many factors including expected demand and competitive supply,” it said in a statement.

A spokesperson for NHS England said the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, or NICE, would have to assess the treatment.

According to a post on the NICE website, the cost-benefit-assessment body is reviewing tirzepatide for weight management and a decision is expected to be published in March next year.

A spokesperson for Lilly referred to that post when asked about the progress.

Lilly’s drug tirzepatide has been available under the Mounjaro brand name for type 2 diabetes since 2022 in the United States, but it is not available in Britain.

NICE in October published guidance on Mounjaro for treating type 2 diabetes last month, saying it would be given to patients with poorly controlled diabetes who suffer from certain levels of obesity or medical conditions.

From the moment of publication, NHS has three months to make tirzepatide available to be prescribed.The charity Diabetes UK said at the time it is are seeking to better understand what supply might be available in early 2024.

(Editing by Tomasz Janowski, Robert Birsel)