Weight-loss drug linked to sleep apnea reduction: Research

April 17, 2024

The weight-loss drug Zepbound was linked to a reduction in obstructive sleep apnea, according to new research. 

Pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly on Wednesday said injections of its obesity drug tirzepatide — commonly known as Zepbound — “significantly reduced” the number of sleep apnea events during one’s sleep when compared to a placebo.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes one’s breathing to repeatedly stop and start. The disorder can cause daytime exhaustion, mood changes, headaches and night sweats, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Complications include high blood pressure or heart issues, type 2 diabetes and liver issues. 

According to results from two yearlong clinical trials, researchers found those who took Zepbound injections had up to a 63 percent reduction in apnea-hypopnea index, or AHI — the number of times a person’s breathing demonstrates a restricted or complete block of airflow per hour of sleep. 

The first trial looked at participants not on PAP (positive airway pressure) therapy — a common treatment for sleep apnea. Those who took Zepbound had an average of 27.4 fewer AHI events per hour, while the placebo saw only a reduction of 4.8 events, the first trial found.

In the second trial, involving participants who use PAP therapy, patients saw a reduction of 30.4 AHI events per hour at 52 weeks, while a reduction of 6 events per hour was seen with the placebo.

Patients on average also lost about 20 percent of their weight, researchers noted.

The findings could indicate a potential treatment for the more than 20 million individuals living with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. 

An estimated 85 percent of obstructive sleep apnea cases go undiagnosed, however, according to Jeff Emmick, the senior vice president of product development for Eli Lilly. 

“Addressing this unmet need head-on is critical, and while there are pharmaceutical treatments for the excessive sleepiness associated with OSA, tirzepatide has the potential to be the first pharmaceutical treatment for the underlying disease,” he said in a statement.

Eli Lilly said it plans to present its findings during a symposium at the American Diabetes Association’s 84th Scientific Sessions in June and will submit its research to a peer-reviewed journal. 

Upon the results of that submission, the pharmaceutical company said it expects to submit to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory agencies later this year. Eli Lilly has already received a FDA Fast Track designation for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea and obesity.