Health startup Noom is now adding weight-loss injectables to its offerings, says “results are much better”
Noom Inc., a startup that for years has touted a psychological path to weight loss, is now ready to add drugs to the equation.
After a pilot test last year, the company is launching its Noom Med option that will include prescriptions for obesity drugs like Novo Nordisk A/S’s Wegovy for around $120 a month. It is the latest weight loss company to join the lifestyle industry’s push to use highly effective and expensive GLP-1 anti-obesity drugs to help customers lose weight.
Noom is among a field of companies looking to capitalize on drugs that help people feel fuller and eat less with relatively few side effects. Patients taking the highest dose of Mounjaro, an Eli Lilly & Co. diabetes drug being tested as an obesity treatment, lost an average of 50 pounds. Many one-time dieters view these results as much more reliable and easier to achieve than with traditional habit-changing programs.
With the new category of drugs, “weight loss results are much better and we listen to our users, our patients,” said Linda Anegawa, Noom’s chief medicine officer. “Patients are asking, ‘How can Noom be more supportive?’”
Traditionally, the weight loss industry has favored behavioral interventions, such as low-calorie diets and exercise programs, over older drugs that often had safety concerns or modest efficacy. Now gamers like Noom see an opportunity to offer recipes along with guidance on diet, behavior change, and exercise.
Anti-obesity drugs “have certainly revolutionized this landscape for sustainable weight loss,” Anegawa said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio. “But for the millions of Americans who are taking these drugs, lasting success really can’t be achieved without having that anchor in behavior change.”
Noom Med will initially be available in 32 states, including New York, Texas, and California, with plans to expand further. Along with GLP-1s (Novo’s Wegovy, Saxenda and Ozempic and Lilly’s Mounjaro), the program will offer cheaper and less effective drugs such as Currax Pharmaceuticals LLC’s Contrave, which reduces food cravings, and metformin, a generic drug for diabetes which is also used to lose weight.
Since 2016, Noom has offered a “psychically driven” app to help customers lose weight. The move to telemedicine pits it against a host of other services, including a familiar rival: WW International Inc., also known as WeightWatchers, whose shares soared in mid-April after it acquired the obesity drug provider of telehealth Sequence. Other competitors include startups Calibrate, an early leader in the space, and Ro. WW International shares fell as much as 3.9% on Wednesday.
The proliferation of companies raises prescription oversight concerns that have previously been raised with some services that provide ADHD and erectile dysfunction medication. Medical supervision is critical, as side effects such as nausea and diarrhea are common with GLP-1 use, and the drugs are associated with rare risks such as pancreatitis. Obese patients commonly need care for other medical conditions that telehealth companies are not equipped to provide.
While dozens of companies are writing prescriptions for weight-loss drugs, obtaining GLP-1 drugs remains a challenge for patients. Telemedicine platforms can cost between $100 and $140 per month and often do not include the cost of medications. Insurance coverage is limited, a legacy of obesity being treated as a cosmetic concern, and without it, patients’ out-of-pocket costs can be in excess of $1,000 per month.
Weight loss medication customers will meet Noom providers in 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 pair medical interventions with its behavioral program, Noom Weight, and believes that focus 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,” people can still gain weight, Anegawa said. “Nobody believes me, but they absolutely can.”
GLP-1 drugs are considered the next best-selling chronic disease treatment, with the potential to transform care in the same way cholesterol-lowering statins did for patients at high risk of heart disease more than 30 years ago. The commercial potential is propelling drugmakers like Novo and Lilly to the top of the US and European markets. Investors are also interested in Pfizer Inc.’s experimental danuglipron after a mid-stage study returned positive results.
About 130 million American adults are eligible for treatment with the drugs under guidelines based largely on a person’s weight. For example, a 5-foot-9 man who weighs 210 pounds would be eligible based solely on body mass index, a measurement based on height and weight used as an indicator of body fat.
Users who sign up for Noom and qualify for drugs will now be offered the option to join the new program. Noom’s doctors will follow those criteria and consider other factors, including underlying medical conditions and laboratory test results, Anegawa said. They can also work with patients to manage common drug side effects, such as nausea and bloating, she said.
The company will try to rely more on GLP-1 drugs that have been specifically approved for obesity like Wegovy, he said; insurers are reluctant to cover diabetes drugs like Ozempic that have not been approved for weight loss.
“The cat is out of the bag on that,” he said. “The payers really don’t allow it anymore.”
The shift toward drug treatment for obesity could pave the way for further expansion at Noom, he said.
“We haven’t marketed ourselves specifically as a treatment for diabetes or hypertension yet,” he said. “But is that something we’re looking for for future iterations of this show? Quite possibly.”