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WeightWatchers enters weight loss drug market with acquisition

WeightWatchers enters weight loss drug market with acquisition
A Weight Watchers International brand bathroom scale pictured in Princeton, Illinois, US, on Monday, 10 February 2018. (Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

WW International Inc looked at more than 30 different startups that prescribe obesity medications before acquiring the telemedicine company Sequence last month, its CEO Sima Sistani said.

“They have built a tech stack better than anyone else,” she said in a Bloomberg Businessweek on Bloomberg Radio interview on Thursday. “These medications are really expensive and Sequence has built out a pre-authorisation engine, so essentially putting the insurance process on tech rails.”

The company announced in March that it was acquiring Sequence, the consumer brand of Weekend Health Inc, for a cash and stock deal valued at $132-million over two years. Sequence prescribes a crop of highly effective new obesity drugs known as GLP-1s, which mimic a satiety hormone to help people eat less. 

WW International, commonly known as WeightWatchers, will continue to offer its signature weight-loss program alongside the new offering

The drugs, like Novo Nordisk A/S’s Ozempic and Eli Lilly & Co’s Wegovy, have become popular among celebrities and on social media, and created a crowded market for prescribing them. Dozens of digital platforms like Sequence have emerged to offer the drugs to patients, often providing prescriptions alongside coaching or other support for lifestyle changes like improvements to diet and exercise. 

“These are complicated medications. It’s not like getting an ED script,” Sistani said, referring to erectile dysfunction medications like generic Viagra that many telemedicine platforms also prescribe.

Startups in the space have also found that the process of getting health insurance reimbursement for obesity drugs can be challenging and time-consuming.

Sistani said that the acquisition of Sequence has been interpreted as a pivot by WeightWatchers, “but that’s not it,” she said. “These medications are all delivered alongside a behaviour change programme.” 

“The benefit of the combination with WeightWatchers is when it’s not medically appropriate we have ways to push those members to WeightWatchers, and vice versa,” she said. 

WeightWatchers also partners with employers to offer its programme to their employees, which could be another avenue for increasing access to weight-loss drugs. BM/DM


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