Medical device makers see limited hit from weight-loss drugs

(Reuters) – U.S. medical device makers do not see a big impact of new weight-loss treatments on the sales of equipment used in procedures such as bariatric surgery due to the prohibitive costs of the drugs as well as reimbursement hurdles.

Intuitive Surgical, Johnson & Johnson and Abbott have all rushed in to allay fears of a hit to a lucrative slice of their business from GLP-1 drugs such as Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy and Ozempic, and Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro

The impact of the weight-loss treatments is likely to be felt across a number of industries, including packaged food and restaurants, as they are known to suppress appetite and promote a feeling of fullness.

Intuitive, which makes a surgical robot used in several procedures including bariatrics, said on an earnings call that the U.S. growth rate for weight-loss surgery was slowing as patients consider using the new drugs instead.

But like Abbott, the company pointed to reimbursement hurdles and high prices for the treatment as some of the issues that limit the hit in the near term.

“I think in the short term, we will see patients who are considering or are in the pipeline for bariatric surgery going to try the drug. However … we expect that many of them will not stay on the drug for longer than a year or two,” said Myriam Curet, Intuitive’s chief medical officer.

Medicines such as Wegovy can cost more than $1,000 per month. Only about one-third of patients prescribed a weight-loss drug like Wegovy were still taking it a year later, Reuters reported in July, citing an analysis of pharmacy claims data.

However, shares of medical device companies have dropped sharply in recent weeks as investors assess the impact of the new class of treatments.

The S&P 500 health care equipment and services index, which lists several large device makers, is down 4.5% so far this year, compared with an 11.4% rise in the broader S&P 500 index.

Johnson & Johnson CFO Joseph Wolk said on Tuesday that the use of these drugs could eventually make obese patients eligible for other procedures using J&J products, even as sales of the devices used in bariatric surgery take a hit in the short term.

Despite investor anxiety over medical device makers, some Wall Street analysts have said there is still room for growth in the industry.

“There will be some patients who because of GLP-1s will … live longer and likely need more medical device treatment,” Jefferies analyst Matthew Taylor said in a note.

“We think GLP-1s are a big drop in the bucket. A big drop. But the bucket is much bigger.”

(Reporting by Manas Mishra and Mariam Sunny in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)



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