After a trial last year, the company is launching its Noom Med option that includes obesity drug prescriptions like Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy for about $120 a month. It is the latest weight-loss company to join the lifestyle-oriented industry’s push to use highly effective, expensive GLP-1 obesity drugs to help customers lose weight.
Noom is one of the companies looking to capitalize on the drugs that help people feel fuller and eat less with relatively few side effects.
Patients taking the highest dose of Mounjaro, a diabetes drug from Eli Lilly & Co. that is being tested as a treatment for obesity, lost an average of 50 pounds. Many dieters see those results as much more reliable and easier to achieve than with traditional habit-changing programs.
With the new class of drugs, “the weight loss results are so much better and we’re listening to our users, our patients,” said Linda Anegawa, Noom’s chief of medicine. “Patients ask: ‘How can Noom support us more?'”
Historically, the weight-loss industry has favored behavioral interventions such as low-calorie diets and exercise programs over previous medications that have often been burdened with safety concerns or modest effectiveness. Now players like Noom are seeing an opening to offer recipes alongside nutrition, behavior modification and exercise guidance.
Obesity drugs “have undoubtedly revolutionized this landscape for sustainable weight loss,” Anegawa said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio. “But for the millions of Americans who take these drugs, lasting success really isn’t often achievable without that anchor in behavior change.”
Noom Med will initially be available in California and 31 other states, including New York and Texas, with plans to expand further. Along with GLP-1s — Novo’s Wegovy, Saxenda and Ozempic and Lilly’s Mounjaro — the program will provide cheaper, less effective drugs, such as Currax Pharmaceuticals’ Contrave, which reduces food cravings, and metformin, a generic diabetes drug also used for weight loss .
Since 2016, Noom has been offering an app “powered by psychology” to help customers lose weight. The move to telemedicine pits it against a slew of other services, including a well-known rival: WW International Inc. — also known as WeightWatchers — whose shares soared in mid-April after it acquired telehealth obesity drug provider Sequence. Other competitors include startups Calibrate, an early space leader, and Ro. Shares of WW International fell as much as 3.9% on Wednesday.
The proliferation of companies raises concerns about prescription oversight that previously arose with some services that provided drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and erectile dysfunction. Medical supervision is critical because side effects such as nausea and diarrhea are common with GLP-1 use, and the drugs have been linked to rare risks such as pancreatitis. Obese patients usually require care for other medical conditions that the telehealth companies cannot provide.
As dozens of companies prescribe weight loss drugs, getting GLP-1 drugs remains a challenge for patients.
Telemedicine platforms can cost around $100 to $140 a month, and often don’t include the cost of medications. Insurance coverage is limited, a legacy of obesity is treated as an aesthetic problem, and without it, patients’ out-of-pocket costs can exceed $1,000 a month.
Weight-loss medication customers will meet Noom’s suppliers during an initial video visit, with subsequent communication via text-based chats and the option of additional follow-up video visits. Noom said it will continue to link medical interventions to its behavioral program, Noom Weight, and believes the approach is essential for lasting, healthy change.
“I can throw all the Wegovy in the world at you, but if you don’t have a comprehensive lifestyle program,” Anegawa said, people can still gain weight. “Nobody believes me, but they absolutely can.”
GLP-1 drugs are seen as the next best-selling treatment for chronic disease, with the potential to transform care in the same way cholesterol-lowering statins did more than 30 years ago for patients at high risk of heart disease.
Its commercial potential propels drugmakers such as Novo and Lilly to the top of the US and European markets. Investors are also eyeing Pfizer Inc’s experimental danuglipron. after an interim study showed positive results.
About 130 million American adults are eligible for treatment with the drugs according to guidelines based largely on a person’s weight. For example, a 5-foot, 9-inch man who weighs 210 pounds would only qualify based on body mass index, a measure based on height and weight used as a proxy for body fat.
Users who sign up for Noom and are eligible for medication will now have the opportunity to participate in the new program. Noom clinicians will follow those criteria and consider other factors, including underlying medical conditions and lab test results, Anegawa said. They can also work with patients to manage common side effects of medications, such as nausea and bloating, she said.
The company will aim to rely more on GLP-1 drugs specifically approved for obesity, such as Wegovy, she said; insurers are reluctant to cover diabetes drugs like Ozempic that aren’t approved for weight loss.
“The cat is out of the bag with that,” she said. “Payers really don’t allow it anymore.”
The shift to drug treatment of obesity could pave the way for more expansion at Noom, she said.
“We’re not marketing ourselves specifically as a treatment for diabetes or hypertension at this point,” Anegawa said. “But is that something we’re looking for for future iterations of this program? Very likely.”