WeightWatchers sees clinical interventions as ‘natural next step’

The acquisition of weight loss management platform Sequence allows WeightWatchers to enter the clinical realm.
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The company behind WeightWatchers (WW)—the weight loss giant known for meal tracking, point counting, and weigh-ins—wants in on the latest craze shaking up the diet industry: injectable weight management drugs.

WW International announced plans in March to acquire Weekend Health, which does business as Sequence, a digital platform that provides subscribers with clinical weight management services.

The $106 million deal, which was finalized in early April, makes WW International the latest weight loss brand to enter the clinical space and prescribe injectable Type 2 diabetes drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic. These drugs have particularly garnered newfound attention as celebrity-backed diet solutions.

“As science evolves, so does WeightWatchers,” Gary Foster, the chief scientific officer for WeightWatchers, told Healthcare Brew. “We view this new generation of weight management medications as a significant inflection point in the treatment of clinically significant obesity; therefore, we have decided to include the potential use of medications within the WW ecosystem.”

The announcement comes just months after Noom, an app-based weight loss subscription service, quietly rolled out its Noom Clinical pilot program in the fall of 2022. In the coming weeks, the company plans to officially launch Noom Clinical, through which clinicians use telehealth to evaluate eligible users for GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonist) prescriptions, according to Noom spokesperson Melissa Rubenstein. Noom previously collaborated with Novo Nordisk—the maker of GLP-1 drugs Saxenda and Wegovy—in October 2019 on digital health solutions focused on weight management and education.

For WeightWatchers, the move toward clinical interventions “is a natural next step,” Foster argued.

“It aligns with our goal of providing sustainable, science-backed weight management across the full weight management spectrum,” he said, adding that the company “entered this space to be an agent for change in addressing both the misperception and misuse of these treatments.”

But critics like Rob Marty, COO for Case Specific Nutrition, have raised concerns about companies built largely on behavioral changes—like Noom and WeightWatchers—getting into the business of prescribing weight loss medications.

“There is money to be made on this and companies are transitioning their business model just to be able to prescribe these drugs,” Marty told Healthcare Brew. “Doesn’t that speak to what’s going wrong in healthcare?”

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The FDA approved Wegovy for chronic weight management in 2021 for patients with a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30, or a BMI of at least 27 if they also have a weight-related condition, like high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes. The agency is expected to soon approve Mounjaro, Eli Lilly’s GLP-1 drug, for weight loss, after having granted it a fast-track designation in October 2022.

Other injectable GLP-1 drugs, like Ozempic, are approved only for patients with Type 2 diabetes, but growing popularity in off-label use for weight loss has sparked shortages.

To qualify for a GLP-1 prescription, members of Sequence—which will continue to operate as a separate entity—are to meet with board-certified clinicians and complete an intake quiz that screens for BMI eligibility and contraindications, Foster said. He said prescriptions will be based on a patient’s “medical history, biology, and insurance coverage.”

Similarly, Noom Clinical users “have the option to discuss medication including GLP-1s and other anti-obesity medications, should they be deemed appropriate and eligible,” Rubenstein said. A Noom clinician (a licensed physician or a physician-supervised nurse practitioner) evaluates users when they first enter the program.

Marty argued that companies like WW and Noom should prioritize consultations with registered dieticians over prescriptions. (Case Specific Nutrition, a Pennsylvania-based company with telehealth offerings, doesn’t “prescribe anything,” he noted.)

“There’s the ethical consideration of: If you can help somebody with behavior change, should you prescribe a drug that has these potential risks?” he said.

Foster stressed that WW is not interested in prescribing GLP-1 medications to people who are only looking to lose about 10 to 15 pounds.

“We […] have an interest in making sure that among people for whom medications are appropriate, they get the best possible biological and behavioral treatments to promote their long-term health outcomes,” he said.

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.