Obesity and the new generation of weight-loss drugs

BNP Paribas Exane analysts explore the potential of GLP-1 based drugs in treating obesity and obesity-related conditions.


With over 800 million people affected worldwide, obesity is one of the most pressing global health challenges of our time. Associated with more than 200 chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, the prevalence of obesity has tripled since 1975 and continues to increase.

As forecasts suggest the global obese population to exceed one billion by 20301, widespread efforts have been made to effectively treat obese people, notably with the launch of GLP-1 based drugs.

Taken weekly, patients can achieve an average of 15% weight loss after one year, according to the drug’s approved FDA label, providing an alternative to surgical intervention. With their market success, a recent BNP Paribas Exane research report asks if GLP-1 based drugs could become crucial to managing obesity?

More than an obesity drug

The research highlights the potential of GLP-1 based drugs beyond simply weight loss and examines the pharmaceutical industry’s advancements with this new generation of obesity drugs.

There is growing evidence to support the importance of GLP-1 based drugs in treating obesity-related health conditions, such as lowering cardiovascular risk and delaying chronic kidney disease. Consequently, analysts see significant opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to expand their presence in the development of weight-loss treatments.

The pharmaceutical industry’s recognition of the increasing acceptance of weight-loss drugs as a viable treatment option has led to an intense demand for GLP-1 based drugs, as well as an explosion of interest in further advances in their development.

Richard Parkes, Head of Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Equity Research, BNP Paribas Exane
Room for improvement

As GLP-1 based drugs make significant strides in addressing obesity, pharmaceutical companies are actively exploring ways to improve their efficacy. There is considerable interest in developing drugs that can help improve preservation of muscle mass and potentially reduce levels of weight regain after treatment ceases.

While injectable formulations of GLP-1 based drugs are more common, oral formulations have been developed as an alternative. However, it requires high amounts of the active ingredient, which impacts manufacturing capacity and costs.

In addition, oral formulations must be taken on an empty stomach followed by a period of fasting to ensure uptake. Consequently, companies are seeking to develop small molecule oral GLP-1 agonists with improved dosing convenience and potentially with improved efficacy and tolerability.

BNP Paribas Exane analysts expect weekly injectables to continue to dominate the market in the medium term, especially as advances are made to extend the dosage intervals from weekly to monthly.

However, in the long term, improved oral formulations of GLP-1 drugs could present a real threat to the dominance of injectables, causing the market to segment over time as more alternative treatments become available.

Unlocking potential

While much of the pharmaceutical industry initially remained sceptical, the increased demand for GLP-1 based drugs has led to innovative solutions for weight loss treatment causing the market to accelerate rapidly in recent years. Sales are forecast to reach more than $140bn by 20312.

Unlocking the full potential of the obesity drug market will require continued investment as well as ongoing research. The development of new drugs to improve the quality and convenience of weight loss treatments could lead to better health outcomes for patients, as well as contribute to reducing the scale of the global obesity crisis.

  1. World Obesity Federation ↩︎
  2. Visible Alpha consensus forecast ↩︎