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Patent protection for Wegovy — Novo Nordisk’s blockbuster weight loss drug, which contains the second generation GLP-1 active ingredient and is at least twice as effective — is expected to expire by the decade’s end.

Michael Siluk | UCG | Getty Images

For Gray Beard, a kindergarten teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, losing weight had become a grueling task. She’d tried five different programs in her life and never found lasting results.

Her luck started to change last year, when she saw a promotion on Instagram for the Ro Body Program, a new offering from online health startup Ro. The ad said eligible patients could get prescribed GLP-1s, the buzzy class of obesity treatments that’s turned into a booming business in recent years.

Beard, 47, had previously sought a GLP-1 prescription, but her doctor “wouldn’t even try” to get it approved, assuming her insurance company would reject coverage of the costly medication, she said. GLP-1s cost roughly $1,000 per month before insurance and other rebates. 

Customers of Ro’s Body Program could get prescribed a GLP-1, such as Novo Nordisk ‘s weight loss drug Wegovy or diabetes treatment Ozempic, and meet monthly with a doctor. They also get access to an educational curriculum, 24/7 messaging, one-on-one coaching with nurses and assistance with navigating insurance complexities. 

Beard was 210 pounds when she first started the program early last year. She’s since lost 40 pounds and serves as an ambassador for Ro. She pays $30 per month for the GLP-1 treatment, after insurance coverage, along with a $145 monthly fee for the program. And she has no plans to leave.

“I’m fine if I have to stay on it forever,” Beard told CNBC.

Ro, founded as Roman in 2017, is part of a growing crop of digital health companies aiming to capitalize on the soaring demand for GLP-1s by building programs and services for users on top of the medications. The opportunity could be massive. Goldman Sachs analysts expect 15 million U.S. adults to be on anti-obesity drugs by 2030, and predict the industry could reach $100 billion in annual revenue by that time.

In addition to Wegovy and Ozempic, the GLP-1 class includes Eli Lilly’s highly popular weight loss drug Zepbound and diabetes treatment Mounjaro. GLP-1s mimic a hormone produced in the gut to suppress a person’s appetite and regulate blood sugar.

Like Ro, other non-drugmakers, including Calibrate, Sesame, Omada Health, Noom, Hims & Hers and even telehealth industry veterans Teladoc Health and WeightWatchers, have rolled out offerings geared toward patients on GLP-1s, or have expanded their services to include the popular medications.

Meanwhile, investors are cheering them on.

Shares of Ro competitor Hims & Hers popped 28% on May 20 after the company said it’s now offering compounded GLP-1 injections in addition to its oral medication kits. CEO Andrew Dudum told CNBC the company is confident customers will be able to access a consistent supply of the injections. 

Dr. Craig Primack talks Hims & Hers launching its own GLP-1 offering as demand rises

Supply shortages are one of the big hurdles for companies in the market, as spiking demand has made it difficult for many patients to access the treatments. There’s also been a rise of counterfeit products, according to the World Health Organization, which said in January that the combination of shortages and the “increased circulation of falsified versions” is particularly problematic for patients with Type 2 diabetes who count on the medication for disease management.

That’s not slowing down industry executives like Ro founder Zachariah Reitano.

Ro didn’t start out as a company focused on weight loss. Reitano launched it to sell treatments online for erectile dysfunction before moving on to hair loss and other pathologies.

In 2020, Ro switched to obesity management and, after Wegovy was approved by the Food and Drug Adminstration the following year, Reitano said patient inquiries started pouring in by the “tens of thousands.”

Now, Ro is shoveling marketing dollars into its GLP-1 program — from digital ads, TV commercials and posters lining subway stations, to influencer campaigns featuring patients such as Beard. 

Reitano told CNBC that GLP-1s are like a “jetpack for positive behavior change.” Patients tend to exercise more, eat healthier and see around a 30% reduction in calorie intake, he said.

“Once you get a little bit of momentum, once you lose a little bit of weight, you’re sleeping better, you have more energy, you can go to the gym, you can eat better and then that’s that positive flywheel,” Reitano said.

Ro has raised around $1 billion in funding to date, according to PitchBook. The company was valued at about $7 billion as of early 2022, though that was before a steep drop in tech stocks and collapse in the initial public offering market forced many startups to dramatically lower their valuations.

WeightWatchers joins the market

WeightWatchers has been in business for over 60 years and is the name in the U.S. perhaps most synonymous with weight loss programs.

In December, the company entered the GLP-1 market, with a behavioral-support program that’s available through its general membership subscription, starting at $23 per month. Members can participate whether they get a GLP-1 prescription through their primary care physician or through the new WeightWatchers Clinic, introduced alongside the behavioral program.

Because GLP-1s suppress appetites, WeightWatchers quickly learned that it needed an entirely new program for people taking the meds, said Gary Foster, the company’s chief scientific officer.

“They don’t need help with what to do for dessert or how to deal with the bread on the table at a restaurant,” Foster said in an interview. “That’s like 50-60% of what we would do for people without meds.” 

Clinic members who participate in the GLP-1 program have to pay an additional fee — starting at $99 a month — for exclusive access to registered dieticians, fitness professionals and care team coordinators. 

WeightWatchers said in its first-quarter results earlier this month that 87,000 people had subscribed to the clinic, although not all of them are taking GLP-1s. The company expects to have between 140,000 and 160,000 clinic subscribers by year-end, the report said. 

It hasn’t been enough to change WeightWatchers’ trajectory. The stock has plummeted 83% this year on concerns about the company’s debt load, its core weight loss business and Oprah Winfrey’s announced departure from the board in February.

With respect to GLP-1s and their impact on weight loss, “the landscape is quite exciting,” Foster said. “I think we should all celebrate and really be delighted by the fact that there are more tools in the toolbox to help people trying to manage their weight.” 

Kim Gradwell with an Ozempic injection needle at her home in Dudley, North Tyneside, Britain, October 31, 2023. 

Lee Smith | Reuters

Jennifer VanGilder, a 51-year-old economics professor at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, said she’d tried countless methods to lose weight, from strict diets to services like the defunct Jenny Craig. She was considering bariatric surgery before she came across a program from digital health startup Calibrate.   

Calibrate, founded in 2019, was one of the first companies to treat obesity by combining GLP-1s with one-on-one coaching. The program costs $199 a month, which doesn’t include the medication, and requires an initial three-month-long commitment.

VanGilder signed up nearly four years ago and started taking the weekly diabetes injection Ozempic specifically for weight loss. She later switched to Wegovy. 

VanGilder said GLP-1s aren’t a miracle drug, but by taking them and putting in the work, she said she lost around 100 pounds of her 242-pound weight. The big difference between Calibrate and prior weight loss efforts, VanGilder said, is that she doesn’t feel like she’s dieting.

“That’s why I’ve been able to stay on it for as long as I have,” VanGilder said.

Calibrate is one of the only companies to regularly release reports detailing the results of its weight loss program. The company’s 2024 report examined data from roughly 16,000 members who completed at least one year of the program as of October, along with a smaller group of patients who continued for longer. 

Average weight loss among patients was 16.2% at 12 months in the program, 17.3% at 18 months and 17.9% at 24 months, according to the report. 

“Our data of proven outcomes shows that we can deliver faster, better results than some of the leading GLP-1 clinical trials,” said Dr. Kristin Baier, Calibrate’s vice president of clinical development, in an interview.

But Calibrate has hit some major speed bumps in the past couple years.

After raising $100 million in venture funding during the peak of the tech market in 2021, the combination of supply shortages, insurance challenges and the broader market swoon forced the startup to lay off hundreds of employees between 2022 and 2023. The company was acquired in October at a discount by private equity firm Madryn Asset Management.

Calibrate CEO Rob MacNaughton said the sector was “ill equipped” to manage the “dramatic demand that led to, at some point, severely, severely constrained supply” of GLP-1s last year. 

Under new ownership, the company continues to promote its GLP-1 service, which its said is important because the drugs themselves aren’t sufficient.

“GLP-1 medications, while they are safe and effective, they are a tool,” said Baier. “They are not the entire treatment.”

Options for patients

Ro’s Reitano said shortages of Wegovy and other GLP-1s last year prompted his company to temporarily pause advertising. Ro also dolled out refunds and credits to patients in its program who weren’t able to pick up their medication within 30 days of receiving a prescription, he said. 

Reitano said Ro has built up “both technical tools and operations” to help patients navigate supply issues. That includes transferring prescriptions to different pharmacies based on their GLP-1 supply and proximity to a patient. From July to August, the company made 50,000 phone calls to pharmacies across the U.S. to coordinate those transfers, Reitano said. 

Ro has also expanded its medication offerings, adding Zepbound following its U.S. approval in November. 

“We added that to our formulary, and that’s really when we started advertising again because we had confidence that we’d be able to get patients an option,” Reitano said. 

Ro CEO on telehealth and the impact of weight loss drugs

Insurance problems persist, though.

Some employers have dropped weight loss drugs from their plans due to the costs associated with covering the treatments for thousands of patients. The federal Medicare program by law can’t cover weight loss drugs unless the prescription is for another approved health benefit, such as diabetes or cardiovascular health. 

Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk offer commercial savings card programs that aim to expand access to their GLP-1s. Eli Lilly allows people with insurance coverage for Zepbound to pay as low as $25 for a monthly prescription. And users who can’t get insurance coverage, may be able to get the drug for as low as $550 a month.

The high costs and difficult access led Hims & Hers to initially stay out of the GLP-1 market even after launching its new weight loss program in December

Dr. Craig Primack, senior vice president of weight management at Hims, said the company decided to offer treatment regimens based on drugs that had been studied and prescribed for decades.  

“We’re going to have people, for one reason or another, who either don’t want an injection at this point, or are just looking for a different alternative,” Primack told CNBC in an interview in March. “These are tools we’ve been using in our field for a long, long time.”

Last week, Hims said customers can now access compounded GLP-1 medications via a prescription from a licensed health-care provider on the platform. Hims said it plans to make branded GLP-1 medications available to its customers once supply is consistently available. The company’s oral medication kits start at $79 a month, and its compounded GLP-1 injections will start at $199 a month.

Dudum said the company has partnered with one of the largest generic manufacturers in the U.S. and has a certain degree of exclusivity with the facility. The manufacturer has FDA oversight, he said. 

Even before Hims introduced compounded GLP-1 injections to its weight loss offering, the company said it expects the program will generate more than $100 million in revenue by the end of 2025.

Beard, the Ro customer, has had to make some changes since starting the Body Program. She initially took Wegovy with no out-of-pocket costs, thanks to her insurance coverage and a savings card program from Novo Nordisk. But she hit a plateau on the drug, so she switched to Zepbound. 

While there have been some hiccups along the way, Beard says the program has largely been a “seamless” addition to her day-to-day life, and that she no longer thinks about food all the time. She even got a family member to enroll.

“We’re not having any bad side effects, so why go off of it?” she said, adding “it’s helped both of us get to the weight we want.”

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Tesla has downsized by at least 14% this year after Elon Musk said layoffs would exceed 10%




Tesla has downsized by at least 14% this year after Elon Musk said layoffs would exceed 10%

Chief Technology Officer of X Elon Musk speaks onstage during the “Exploring the New Frontiers of Innovation: Mark Read in Conversation with Elon Musk” session at the Lumiere Theatre during the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity 2024 – Day Three on June 19, 2024 in Cannes, France. 

Richard Bord | Wireimage | Getty Images

Tesla’s hefty downsizing in 2023 has reduced its global head count to just over 121,000 people, including temporary workers, internal records suggest, indicating that the automaker has slashed more than 14% of its workforce so far this year.

The latest figure is not from precise payroll data, but from the number of people who are on Tesla’s “everybody” email distribution list as of June 17, a tally viewed by CNBC.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent an email to “everybody” that day. He told employees, “Over the next few weeks, Tesla will be doing a comprehensive review to provide stock options grants for exceptional performance.” He added that options grants will also be awarded to “anyone who does something outstanding for the company.” Tesla’s plan to reinstitute options grants, after previously pausing performance-based equity awards, was reported first by Reuters.

Tesla’s layoffs announcement landed in April, when Musk sent out a companywide email telling employees that the automaker would be cutting more than 10% of its staff. Layoffs at that point were already underway.

Bloomberg reported that Musk was aiming for a 20% staff cut. Musk indicated that the number could be even bigger. On the company’s first-quarter earnings call later in April, he said Tesla had reached an inefficiency level of 25% to 30% after “a long period of prosperity” that began in 2019.

“We’ve made some corrections along the way,” Musk said on the call. “But it is time to reorganize the company for the next phase of growth.”

In a filing for the fourth quarter, Tesla said its employee head count worldwide at the end of December was 140,473, a number that represents salaried and hourly staffers. The “everybody” email list includes temporary workers. At around 121,000, that suggests Tesla has reduced overall headcount by at least 14% since the end of 2023.

Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In at least one instance, Musk’s head-count reductions went too far. Tesla dismantled its Supercharging team, which consisted of hundreds of employees, including its leader, Rebecca Tinucci. The company later hired some of those people back, according to posts on LinkedIn.

The broader cuts coincide with a slippage in sales at Tesla as the company reckons with an aging lineup of electric vehicles and increased competition in China as well as brand deterioration that a recent survey attributed partly to Musk’s “antics” and “political rants.” For the first quarter, Tesla reported a 9% drop in annual revenue, the biggest decline since 2012.

Across the auto industry, EV sales growth slowed this year after two years of rapid expansion. The slide was particularly acute for Tesla, whose Model Y was the top-selling car worldwide in 2023.

A Tesla employee, who asked not to be named in order to discuss sensitive internal issues, told CNBC that some factory workers are fearful more layoffs could follow in July, depending on second-quarter results.

A production and deliveries report for the second quarter is expected from Tesla during the first week of July.

Musk has promised investors the company will soon publish a new “Master Plan,” which would be his fourth, and that Tesla will reveal its design for a “dedicated robotaxi” on Aug. 8.

Tesla shares were little changed on Friday at $181.71. The stock is down 27% this year, while the Nasdaq is up 18%.

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Apple Intelligence won’t launch in EU in 2024 due to antitrust regulation, company says




Apple Intelligence won't launch in EU in 2024 due to antitrust regulation, company says

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California, US, on Monday, June 10, 2024. 

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Apple said Friday it won’t release three recently announced features, including its flagship “Apple Intelligence” AI product, in the European Union in 2024 due to “regulatory uncertainties” stemming from the bloc’s Digital Markets Act antitrust regulation.

Apple said in a statement that the features — Apple Intelligence, iPhone Mirroring, and enhancements to its SharePlay screen-sharing product — won’t be available to EU customers due to Apple’s belief “that the interoperability requirements of the DMA could force us to compromise the integrity of our products in ways that risk user privacy and data security.”

The EU passed the DMA in 2023, spurred by concerns that a handful of major technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Meta, Microsoft and TikTok parent ByteDance were acting as “gatekeepers” in preventing smaller firms from competing. Among other things, DMA requires that basic functionalities work across competing devices and ecosystems.

The interoperability requirements apply to iPhones and iPads. But Macs are affected by the DMA because iPhone Mirroring allows users to replicate the screen of an iPhone on the screen of a Mac.

The loss of the company’s AI product could be a disappointment to consumers. Apple Intelligence can proofread writing or even rewrite it in a friendly or professional tone. It can create custom emoji called Genmoji, search through an iPhone for specific messages from someone, summarize and transcribe phone calls and show priority notifications. The company also announced a partnership with OpenAI and a roadmap to other models being added to the platform.

Apple shares were largely flat on the news. Apple saw 2023 net sales of $94.3 billion in Europe, just under a quarter of its worldwide net sales. Apple Intelligence also won’t be available in Greater China, which accounted for $72.6 billion of its 2023 sales.

The company said it will work with the European Union “in an attempt to find a solution that would enable us to deliver these features to our EU customers without compromising their safety.”

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SoftBank CEO says AI that is 10,000 times smarter than humans will come out in 10 years




SoftBank CEO says AI that is 10,000 times smarter than humans will come out in 10 years

Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank Group Corp., speaks during the company’s annual general meeting in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, June 20, 2024. Son sketched out ambitions to help create AI thousands of times smarter than any human, making his most grandiose pronouncements since the Japanese conglomerate began taking steps to shore up its finances following a series of ill-timed startup bets. 

Kosuke Okahara | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Artificial intelligence that is 10,000 times smarter than humans will be here in 10 years, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said on Friday, in a rare public appearance during which he questioned his own purpose in life.

Son laid out his vision for a world featuring artificial super intelligence, or ASI, as he dubbed it.

The CEO first talked about another term — artificial general intelligence, or AGI — which broadly refers to AI that is smarter than humans. Son said this tech is likely to be one to 10 times smarter than humans and will arrive in the next three-to-five years, earlier than he had anticipated.

But if AGI is not much smarter than humans, “then we don’t need to change the way of living, we don’t need to change the structure of human lifestyle,” Son said, according to a live translation of his comments in Japanese, which were delivered during SoftBank’s annual general meeting of shareholders.

“But when it comes to ASI it’s a totally different story. [With] ASI, you will see a big improvement.”

Son discussed how the future will hold various ASI models that interact with each other, like neurons in a human brain. This will lead to AI that is 10,000 times smarter than any human genius, according to Son.

SoftBank shares closed down more than 3% in Japan, following the meeting.

Son is SoftBank’s founder, who rose to prominence after an early and profitable investment in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. He positioned SoftBank as a tech visionary with the 2017 launch of the Vision Fund, a massive investment fund focused on backing tech firms. While some of the bets were successful, there were also many high-profile failures, such as office sharing company WeWork.

After posting then-record financial losses at Vision Fund in 2022, Son said that SoftBank would go into “defense” mode and be more conservative with its investments. In 2023, the Vision Fund posted a new record loss, with Son shortly after saying that SoftBank would now shift into “offense,” because he was excited about the investment opportunities in AI.

Son has been broadly out of the public eye since then.

He returned to the spotlight on Friday to deliver a speech that was full of existential questions.

“Two years ago, I am getting old, rest of my life is limited, but I haven’t done anything yet and I cried so hard,” Son said, suggesting he feels he hasn’t achieved anything of consequence to date.

He added that he had now found SoftBank’s mission, which is the “evolution of humanity.” He also said he has discovered his own purpose in life.

“SoftBank was founded for what purpose? For what purpose was Masa Son born? It may sound strange, but I think I was born to realize ASI. I am super serious about it,” Son said.

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