Eli Lilly: Zepbound Worked Wonders for Sleep Apnea

Its weight-loss drug was found to reduce sleep events, the company announced
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2024 1:20 PM CDT
Eli Lilly: Zepbound Can Actually Treat Cause of Sleep Apnea
   (Getty Images / Alican Lazutti)

Eli Lilly's Zepbound doesn't just lead to weight loss, per the company. A 52-week study found a reduction in obstructive sleep apnea in adults with obesity, the company said Wednesday. Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which an upper airway blockage during sleep restricts airflow. People with it have a hard time getting adequate sleep and can ultimately suffer heart arrhythmias, heart failure, and death. The company tested the use of Zepbound on adults with obesity and moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea, with moderate described as at least 15 interruptions to breathing during sleep per hour. One group did use CPAP machines; the other did not, and the number of those sleep events was measured. The results:

  • By the numbers: Among the CPAP group, after a year on Zepbound, test subjects experienced 30.4 fewer events (down 62.8%) per hour versus a drop of 6 events per hour in those taking a placebo. Among the CPAP-less group, test subjects experienced 27.4 fewer events (55%) per hour versus a drop of 4.8 events per hour in those taking a placebo.
  • That's not all: Those on Zepbound in both groups lost an average 20% of their body weight; the drugmaker believes the loss of fat deposits in the tongue and airway played a role in the reduction in events, reports the New York Times. The release noted the trials' "patient population ... was comprised of approximately 70% males, who are known to achieve less weight loss with incretin therapy than females."
  • Standout quote: "Tirzepatide has the potential to be the first pharmaceutical treatment for the underlying disease," said Eli Lilly VP of product development Dr. Jeff Emmick in the release.
  • An outside perspective: Dr. Susan Spratt with Duke Health's Population Health Management Office praised the study, which NBC News reports she was not part of. She said it makes clear that obesity "is not a vanity issue. ... This is about treating a major health problem that reduces significant morbidity and mortality." She suspects it could lead more insurance companies to cover the drug. Indeed, Quartz reports the drugmaker plans to seek FDA approval for the expanded use of the drug; if granted it could end up being covered by Medicare.
  • About the study: The Times notes the results have not been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, but Eli Lilly released a summary of the results "because companies are required to announce such findings that can affect their stock price as soon as they get them."
(More Zepbound stories.)

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