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Eli Lilly’s weight loss injection tirzepatide, found in popular drugs Mounjaro and Zepbound, shows potential in treating sleep apnea according to recent research, enhancing the argument for broader insurance coverage of GLP-1 drugs due to their diverse health benefits beyond diabetes and weight loss.

Key Facts

  • Sleep Apnea: A prevalent condition characterised by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep, which decreases oxygen levels and increases the risk of severe health issues such as hypertension, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and dementia.

  • Causes: It often results from an obstructed upper airway (obstructive sleep apnea) or from the brain's failure to send correct breathing signals.

  • Clinical Trials: Two clinical trials published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that tirzepatide significantly reduced breathing interruptions in clinically obese patients with moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea.

  • Study Details: The study, involving 469 patients from nine countries, administered different doses of tirzepatide or placebo* over a year. Some patients, who also used CPAP ( continuous positive airway pressure)** machines, showed such improvement that CPAP therapy might become unnecessary.

  • Potential Impact: This could revolutionize sleep apnea treatment by potentially eliminating the need for CPAP machines for some patients, according to lead researcher Atul Malhotra.

Potential Drug Therapy

Lilly plans to submit data to the FDA and other regulators to expand tirzepatide's label for treating sleep apnea. If approved, tirzepatide could become the first pharmaceutical treatment targeting the root causes of sleep apnea.

Significant Numbers

  • 1 Billion: The estimated global population living with obstructive sleep apnea.
  • 80 Million: The number of people in the U.S. affected by the condition, with 20 million suffering from moderate-to-severe OSA.

This advancement highlights the expanding medical applications of GLP-1 drugs, which could change the landscape of treating multiple health conditions while addressing significant unmet needs in the medical community.

Study Reference:

Tirzepatide for the Treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Obesity

* Placebo is a substance that has no therapeutic effect, used as a control in testing new drugs.
** CPAP is a a machine that uses mild air pressure to keep breathing airways open while you sleep.

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