Transcript: The Year of Weight Loss Drugs

This is an audio copy FT News Briefing podcast episode: The Year of Diet Pills

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Marc Filippino
Good morning from the Financial Times. Today is Friday December 22nd. And this is your FT News Briefing.

The Bank of England may start cutting interest rates next year. And weight loss drugs like Ozempic have been in the news a lot. But are we missing out on their true potential?

Hanna Kuchler
They’re not just like weight loss shots, they’re really effective preventative tools.

Marc Filippino
Additionally, we look at India’s booming fertility industry. I’m Marc Filippino. And here’s the news you need to start your day.

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UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has raised the prospect of a rate cut in 2024. He told the FT recently that next year the country will have to let go of its pessimism about the economy, which is not too shocking, especially as we saw UK inflation fall to 3.9. percent last month and interest rates in the UK are at a 15-year high. But ultimately it depends on the Bank of England. And one of the bank’s chief executives said this week that uncertainty in the UK labor market would mean it would have to wait before it could cut rates.

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FT has chosen Lars Fruergaard Jrgensen as Person of the Year. He is the CEO of Novo Nordisk. If neither of those names sound familiar, the company’s leading drugs probably make Ozempic and Wegovy. They are revolutionary treatments for obesity and were two of the most talked about drugs this year. Here, Jrgensen and the effects of these drugs are discussed by the FT’s global pharmaceuticals editor, Hannah Kuchler. Hi Hannah.

Hanna Kuchler
Hey.

Marc Filippino
Clear. So tell us a little bit about Jrgensen and his role in founding these drugs.

Hanna Kuchler
So you are correct in saying that he will not become a household name. But I think when Ozempic and Wegovy became household names, he got a really important role because these are drugs that have the potential to really change society. Obesity costs healthcare systems enormously. It costs a huge amount like lost days of work. And that can be the thing that really forces us to think more proactively. They’re not just like weight loss shots, they’re really effective preventative tools. They reduce the risk of really serious cardiac events, and they’re really expensive things for health care systems. So if they can pay for this drug now to get the benefit later, that can be really important.

Marc Filippino
I see. So they consider these drugs as a kind of preventive measure. That’s the health part here. But how did these drugs become a cultural phenomenon?

Hanna Kuchler
Yeah. I mean, it’s so funny because…so I met Jrgensen a couple of weeks ago in Copenhagen, and he’s not that good of a guy to keep up with celebrity news. But these drugs are really popular in Hollywood, and they started last year when Kim Kardashian went to the Met Gala.

Kim Kardashian sound clip
Let everyone know that I know the process it took to get in…

Hanna Kuchler
And she slimmed down into that little Marilyn Monroe dress.

Kim Kardashian sound clip
I tried it. It didn’t suit me. And so I looked at him and said, give me three weeks. And I…

Hanna Kuchler
Now he has not admitted that he took them. And often celebrities don’t. But now the working assumption of most celebrity watchers is that so many people are on. It became a big joke at this year’s Oscars…

Jimmy Kimmel audio clip
Everyone looks so amazing. As I look around this room, I can’t help but wonder, is Ozempic right for me?

Hanna Kuchler
And this has apparently driven demand in the real world.

Marc Filippino
Yes there is a lot of hype. But what are the criticisms or even the long-term public health implications of these drugs?

Hanna Kuchler
Yeah. So, in the short term, supply constraints remain huge. Part of that is because they basically didn’t anticipate what kind of demand there would be. And there have been concerns that the way in which they are currently being deployed is quite uneven. It seems that celebrities can even get Ozempic, which focuses on diabetes and you are meant to get diabetes. And people with diabetes sometimes have trouble doing that. I think in the long run they’re desperate to make it more equally accessible. But to do that, they have to have health insurance, cover it more widely, and they have to have government systems that pay for health care, cover it more widely. And they try things. They suggest ways like, get the drug now, pay for it later when you see the benefits and all kinds of things. But that’s a redundant question, like is this still so unequal?

Marc Filippino
Yeah. You know what this kind of rise to fame tells us about where the pharmaceutical industry is right now?

Hanna Kuchler
What I think is impressive and interesting is that, in many ways, pharmaceutical companies have become sort of engines of acquisitions. Often they don’t do much research in-house. They just pick up small biotechs and commercialize the products, and Novo Nordisk has been working on this for 32 years. This is the opposite of overnight success and innovation. And so I think it shows that it’s still possible. Eli Lilly, one of their long-time competitors, is also the only company to have developed these in-house as well. And that’s why some companies might be rethinking their models.

Marc Filippino
Hannah Kuchler is FT’s global pharmaceutical editor. Thank you, Hannah.

Hanna Kuchler
Thank you.

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Marc Filippino
This year, India overtook China as the most populous country on the planet. But one of the most overlooked trends is that the birth rate has come down quite a bit and fertility clinics have now become big businesses in India. This is the final part of a three-part series on the changing face of India. Today we look at how a fertility business has impacted one family in Mumbai. Our correspondent Chloe Cornish has received the report.

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Maya
It took us at least 10 years to get pregnant.

Chloe Cornish
It’s Maya, a 38-year-old beautician and Manvi’s mother. (Child sings)

Chloe Cornish
She is an adorable three-year-old wearing a Tiara at four.

Maya
Are you a princess?

Manvi
Yeah.

Chloe Cornish
His hair is short and fuzzy like a duckling. This is because the family has just returned from a visit to a temple in southern India where Manvi and her father Sunil shaved their heads and donated their hair. The temple is very special to the family as Manvi was born six months after they had visited it. Maya shows me before and after pictures.

Maya
We try to recreate the same images without him and with him. So she keeps asking me, mom, why am I not in the picture? That’s why we created the whole thing. So we have to tell him that you were in my stomach when we went there.

Chloe Cornish
Maya had to endure a painful obstacle course of pills and bad medical advice before she became pregnant.

Maya
At first I started treating (inaudible) in the hospital, but the condition was so bad, so bad that every time I go to them it’s like scary and, you know, shameful. Like, how are you going to open your body in front of someone else? And they talk to you so rudely. You are like a human, not a human.

Chloe Cornish
After a while, Maya stopped trying and started saving money. And while she was giving beauty treatments, her clients were sharing their own fertility struggles.

Maya
Apparently we were talking about a few of my clients, they went to the same doctor and I said why not? I can also try now. I can afford it.

Chloe Cornish
That’s how he came to know about private doctors like Dr. Kaushal Kadam.

Maya
So I went there and talked to the doctor. I was very comfortable. So he was very sweet, so he made me understand that this could go like this. This is how it happens.

Chloe Cornish
When Dr. Kaushal opened his clinic in Mumbai 13 years ago, most of his patients came from abroad for surrogacy. But these days, he’s busy with local clients like Maya.

Dr. Kaushal Kadam
More and more Indian patients started seeking help. And that is why now, even though there are very few international patients, we have a lot of Indian patients themselves who seek treatment from us.

Chloe Cornish
Indian women now have an average of two children. It is below the level needed to replace the population. Its birth rate is higher than that of the United States, but significantly lower than in the 1950s. The average woman had six children.

Dr. Kaushal Kadam
When I heard my parents talk about this, they thought that married couples in India would have babies within a year. And now the trend is changing.

Chloe Cornish
As education and work opportunities improve, middle-class families have fewer children and become pregnant later in life. But with a slightly older onset and other factors such as stress, many would-be parents find it difficult to conceive.

The cost of IVF is too high for most Indian families. Maya chose intrauterine artificial insemination instead, where a doctor injects sperm into the patient’s uterus. This is much more affordable at about $100 per cycle. But Maya and Sunil still had to make great sacrifices to pay it off.

Maya
We cut everything else, like, we don’t go on vacation, we don’t go to the movies. (Inaudible) Nothing.

Chloe Cornish
Couples like Maya and Sunil are far from alone. The Indian Society for Assisted Reproduction says that every sixth couple struggles to conceive. Dr. Kaushal says business has been booming since the beginning of the decade.

Dr. Kaushal Kadam
When I started, there were only a handful of centers. And I think the boom was really the reason why we had so many clinics that offered different services to patients. But in a way that also helped because this created awareness among patients. And now patients have a choice.

Chloe Cornish
For investors, this is a huge business opportunity. Now Indian banks are supporting the growing industry by providing personal loans for fertility treatment. India’s four leading fertility groups are backed by venture capitalists. It shows how eager they are to benefit from the growth of industries. Indira, India’s largest chain of fertility centers, was valued at more than $1 billion when multinational private equity firm EQT bought a majority stake in July.

Dr. Kaushals’ clinic is on the smaller end of the field, but he is busy. He says he sees about 10 prospective parents a day. And in Maya, he has a very happy customer.

Maya
No, I’m not sorry. I’m glad we did it. Very, very happy about it.

Chloe Cornish
For the FT News Briefing, Im Chloe Cornish. Special thanks to Jyotsna Singh for her help in reporting and producing this piece.

Marc Filippino
That’s it for our series on changing India. If you missed parts 1 and 2, check out the December 20th and December 21st episodes.

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You can read more about all these stories on FT.com for free by clicking on the links in our show notes. This has been your daily subscription to the FT News Briefing. And hey, I did something a little different next week. Well, highlight the presentations of our great colleagues here at FT. Be sure to listen and see everything in 2024.

The FT News Briefing is produced by Kasia Broussalian, Sonja Hutson, Fiona Symon and myself, Marc Filippino. Our engineer is Monica Lopez. This week we had help from Joanna Kao, Josh Gabert-Doyon, Breen Turner, David da Silva, Michael Lello, Peter Barber and Gavin Kallmann. Our executive producer is Topher Forhecz. Cheryl Brumley is FT’s Global Head of Audio and our theme song is produced by Metaphor Music.

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