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Ozempic: We may be on the brink of solving a decades-old crisis with a single medicine

Finn McRedmond: It is easy to assume the world is getting progressively worse. And then along comes a huge leap forward in science or medicine to challenge the misery

Boris Johnson made his official debut as a Daily Mail columnist on Saturday. His first piece caught us all by surprise: it was not a takedown of his political rivals nor a lofty musing on the state of the union. Rather it was an admission that he had tried Ozempic, the newly popular so-called miracle weight-loss drug.

Johnson explained his confidence that the medicine could change millions of lives, in spite of his disappointment that the drug did not work on him personally. That’s unusual – Ozempic has a pretty solid record in helping patients lose up to 10 per cent of their weight. But then again, Johnson has always been a rarefied person. In any case, the former prime minister has the right attitude.

Ozempic could be revolutionary. Aside from all the questions about expense and beauty standards - and notwithstanding the Medical Council’s warning to doctors not to prescribe it for weight loss in patients who do not have diabetes - its arrival is a cause for celebration. Not just because it could turn the tide on the obesity epidemic, nor because it might improve lives on an individual basis (though both of these things matter too). But because we may be on the brink of solving a decades-old crisis with a single medicine.

We can scoff at the concept of a miracle cure, but Ozempic is genuinely groundbreaking. There is tentative optimism that the drug could go further too.


Some patients have reported effects beyond the desired weight loss: a disinterest in drinking and smoking, particularly. There is no consensus on the drug’s actual ability to curb addictive inclinations, but field specialists’ ears are pricking up. More than anything, it seems we are only in the foothills of a potential scientific revolution. The full extent of this discovery will take a long time to reveal itself.

It is so easy to be a doomsayer, to assume the world is getting worse, to believe that salvation is a distant fantasy. This is of course – by almost all metrics – not true. And it is certainly an unhelpful disposition. But it is a classic cognitive bias that sees the past as a shining example of how life should be and the present as an ever deepening spiral of decline. It’s a mentality we ought to shake.

Ozempic and the obesity crisis may seem like small fry in the grand scheme of the universe. But it is also evidence that a little faith in medicine can solve once seemingly intractable problems. It is an important reminder that faith in and funding for technological advances can, piece by piece, guide us to a better place. More than anything it tells us that scientific progress is the most powerful tool for solving these large-scale human problems. And that we can renew our optimism for the future.

We should wonder, then, about the political motivations of those reflexively against innovations such as Ozempic. Before it entered the mainstream, the best solution anyone had to the obesity epidemic was something along the lines of radical full-scale cultural upheaval. That’s a rather serious ambition – perhaps an unattainable one, and something certainly politically motivated. As writer Sam Bowman points out: “Ozempic is deeply threatening to people who use poor health, pollution and climate change as pretexts for anti-capitalism.”

Or, to put it another way: if a problem can be solved by a scientific advance, then the call for a radical societal shift becomes weaker. The case for technological evolution outpaces the case for social revolution.

We can think about this in light of climate protest too. Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, as two examples, are highly politically motivated projects too. At the end of last year Greta Thunberg said that only overthrow of the “whole capitalist system” will ameliorate the damage wrought to the planet. This tranche of climate activists – perfectly admirable in their dedication – want nothing short of revolution. The notion that there are other ways to solve a crisis has been forgotten, or ignored. It is a shame.

For a start, there are many tangible things that have come from incremental technological progress rather than revolutionary zeal. Electric cars are not perfect yet, but they indicate a confident stride in the right direction. With the advent of Tesla they have become increasingly desirable and, dare we say it, cool. This is just one example.

But evidence enough that the forces of the market and the technology are effective tools when it comes to solving vastly complicated and knotty problems like heavily polluting cars. Renewable energies are the product of collaboration between scientists and governments, too. Public health and the environment are not the sole beneficiaries of technological progress. But recent developments in both should help curb the worst pessimistic tendencies and the erroneous belief that the world is headed for total destitution. There is a lot left to improve, and political pressure certainly helps keep priorities in order. Nevertheless, cautious optimism is always better than despairing catastrophism.