As drugs like Ozempic become increasingly popular for weight loss, more doctors and patients are looking for ways to counteract the muscle loss that can happen on these medications — and companies are racing to meet that demand.
Luxury gyms are offering strength-training programs specifically marketed toward people taking these medications, promising to help clients “optimize their outcomes.” Nutritionists and meal-delivery services are creating plans to help patients pack in enough protein. And drug companies including Eli Lilly, which makes Mounjaro and Zepbound, are looking to develop combination treatments that prevent muscle loss.
“I know people are like, ‘Oh, we’re trying to fix the liability.’ It’s not that,” said Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, the chief scientific officer at Eli Lilly. The question, he said, is how to build on the benefits of medication to help patients lose more fat while preserving, or even gaining, more muscle.
Eli Lilly is partnering with BioAge Labs to test whether a compound called azelaprag could help people achieve a more optimal balance of muscle and fat, possibly helping people who are taking Mounjaro or Zepbound lose even more weight. The drug imitates a hormone produced during exercise that can improve muscle metabolism and function.
And last year, Eli Lilly acquired the biopharmaceutical company Versanis, which makes a drug that blocks receptors that regulate skeletal muscle and fat mass. “When it does that, muscles get bigger,” said Dr. Steven Heymsfield, a professor of metabolism and body composition at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana who has studied the drug, called bimagrumab.
There’s also a trial underway testing bimagrumab and semaglutide, the substance in Ozempic and Wegovy, in adults with obesity. Later this year, the drugmaker Regeneron will begin a clinical trial testing semaglutide in combination with an antibody treatment that blocks receptors that regulate muscle growth. And on Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration greenlit a clinical trial to study whether a compound previously tested as a treatment for muscle loss in older adults could help preserve muscle and shed more fat in people 60 and older taking a weight loss drug.
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