Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Aug 2, 2022

Pharmaceuticals: The Global Obesity Challenge

With Terrance Flynn and Mark Purcell


Mark Purcell: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Mark Purcell, Head of Morgan Stanley's European Pharmaceuticals Team.

Terence Flynn: And I'm Terence Flynn, Head of the U.S. Pharmaceuticals Team.

Mark Purcell: And on this special episode of Thoughts on the Market, we'll be talking about the global obesity challenge and our outlook for the next decade. It's Tuesday, August the 2nd, and it's 1 p.m. in London.

Terence Flynn: And 8 a.m. in New York.

Terence Flynn: So Mark, more than 650 million people worldwide are living with obesity as we speak. The personal, social and economic costs from obesity are huge. The World Health Organization estimates that obesity is responsible for 5% of all global deaths, which impacts global GDP by around 3%. Obesity is linked to over 200 health complications from osteoarthritis, to kidney disease, to early loss of vision. So tackling the obesity epidemic would impact directly or indirectly multiple sectors of the economy. Lots to talk about today, but let's start with one of the key questions here: why are we talking about all this now? Are we at an inflection point? And is the obesity narrative changing?

Mark Purcell: Yeah Terence look, there's a category of medicine called GLP-1's which have been used to treat diabetes for over a decade. GLP-1 is an appetite suppressing hormone. It works on GLP-1 receptors, you could think of these as hunger receptors, and it helps to regulate how much food our bodies feel they need to consume. Therefore, these GLP-1 medicines could become an important weapon in the fight against obesity. The latest GLP-1 medicines can help individuals who are obese lose 15 to 20% of their body weight. That is equivalent to 45 to 60% of the excess weight these individuals carry in the form of fat which accumulates around the waist and important organs in our bodies such as the liver. There is a landmark obesity study called SELECT, which has been designed to answer the following key question: does weight management save lives? An interim analysis of this SELECT study is anticipated in the next two months, and our work suggests that GLP-1 medicines could deliver a 27% reduction in the risk of heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular deaths. We believe that governments and insurance companies will broaden the reimbursement of GLP-1 medicines in obesity if they are proven to save lives. This comes at a time when new GLP-1 medicines are becoming available with increasing levels of effectiveness. It's an exciting time in the war against obesity, and we wanted to understand the implications of the SELECT study before it reads out.

Terence Flynn: So, our collaborative work suggests that obesity may be the new hypertension. What exactly do we mean by that, Mark? How do we size the global opportunity and what's the timeline here?

Mark Purcell: Back in the 1960s and 1970s, hypertension was seen as a lifestyle disease caused by stress and old age. Over time, it was shown that high blood pressure could be treated, and in doing so, doctors could prevent heart attacks and save lives. A new wave of medicines were introduced to the market in the mid 1980s to treat individuals with high blood pressure and doctors found the most effective way to treat high blood pressure was to use combinations of these medicines. By the end of the 1990's, the hypertension market reached $30 billion in sales, that's equivalent to over $15 billion today adjusting for inflation. Obesity is seen by many as a lifestyle disease caused by a lack of self-control when it comes to eating too much. However, obesity is now classified as a preventable chronic disease by medical associations, just like hypertension. Specialists in the obesity field now recognize that our bodies have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to put on weight, to survive times where there is a lack of food available and a key way to fight obesity is to reset the balance of how much food our bodies think they need. With the availability of new, effective obesity medicines, we believe that obesity is on the cusp of moving into mainstream primary care management. And the obesity market is where the treatment of high blood pressure was in the mid to late 1980s. We built a detailed obesity model focusing on the key bottlenecks, patient activation, physicians engagement and payer recognition. And we believe that the obesity global sales could exceed $50 billion by the end of this decade.

Terence Flynn: So Mark, what are the catalysts aligning to unlock the potential of this $50 billion obesity opportunity?

Mark Purcell: We believe there are full catalysts which should begin to unlock this opportunity over the next six months. Firstly, the SELECT study, which we talked about. It could be stopped early in the next two months if GOP P1 medicines are shown overwhelmingly to save lives by reducing excess weight. Secondly, the demand for GLP-1 medicines to treat obesity was underappreciated by the pharmaceutical industry. But through the second half of this year, GLP-1 medicines, supply constraints will be addressed and we'll be able to appreciate the underlying patient demand for these important medicines. Thirdly, analysis shows that social media is already creating a recursive cycle of education, word of mouth and heightened demand for these weight loss medicines. Lastly, diabetes treatment guidelines are actively evolving to recognize important comorbidities, and we expect a greater emphasis on weight treatment goals by the end of this year.

Terence Flynn: Mark, you mentioned some bottlenecks with respect to the obesity challenge. One of those was patient activation. What's the story there and how does social media play into it?

Mark Purcell: Yes, great question Terence, look it's estimated that less than 10% of individuals suffering from obesity are diagnosed and actively managed by doctors. And that compares to 80 to 90% of individuals who suffer from high blood pressure, or diabetes, or high levels of cholesterol. Once patients come forward to see their doctors, 40% of them are treated with an anti-obesity medicine. And as more effective medicines become available, we just think this percentage is going to rise. Lastly, studies designed to answer the question, what benefit does 15 to 20% weight loss deliver in terms of reducing the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease? Will help activate governments and insurance companies to reimburse obesity medicines. But it all starts with individuals suffering from obesity coming forward and seeking help, and this is where we expect social media to play a really important key role.

Terence Flynn: To a layperson, there's significant overlap between diabetes and obesity. How do we conceptualize the obesity challenge vis a vis diabetes, Mark?

Mark Purcell: Terence, you're absolutely right. There is significant overlap between diabetes and obesity and it makes it difficult and complicated to model. It's estimated that between 80 to 85% of diabetics are overweight. It's estimated that 35% of diabetics are obese and around 10% of diabetics are severely obese. GLP-1 medicines have been used to treat diabetes for over a decade, not only being extremely effective in lowering blood sugar, but also in reducing the risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks and removing excess body weight, which is being recognized as increasingly important. This triple whammy of benefit means that the use of GLP-1 medicines is increasing rapidly, and sales in diabetes are expected to reach over $20 billion this year, compared to just over $2 billion in obesity. By the end of the decade our work suggests that the use of GLP-1 based medicines in obesity could exceed the use in diabetes by up to 50%.

Terence Flynn: Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk.

Mark Purcell: Great speaking with you again, Terrence.

Terence Flynn: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.

As studies begin to show that obesity medications may save lives, will governments and insurances begin to consider them preventative primary care? And how might this create opportunity in pharmaceuticals? Head of European Pharmaceuticals Mark Purcell and Head of U.S. Pharmaceuticals Terence Flynn discuss.

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