(Bloomberg) -- Eli Lilly & Co.’s weight-loss drug Zepbound improved sleep-related breathing problems in highly anticipated studies that may convince more insurers to cover the $1,000-a-month treatment. 

In two late-stage trials of patients with obstructive sleep apnea, a condition closely linked to obesity, Zepbound reduced the number of times breathing slowed or stopped during sleep by up to 63% from the baseline, Lilly said in a statement Wednesday. The result topped Jefferies analysts’ expectations that the trials would likely show a reduction of up to 55%. 

Patients in the 52-week studies also lost as much as 20% of their body weight, Lilly said. 

Lilly said it plans to share full results from the trials at the American Diabetes Association conference in June. The drug giant plans to submit those results to the US Food and Drug Administration and other regulators beginning mid-year. That could lead to US priority review and approval in sleep apnea by early 2025, analysts from Leerink said in a note.

Lilly shares climbed as much as 2.3% when New York markets. ResMed Inc. which makes breathing devices for sleep apnea, dropped as much as 3.4%. 

An approval for Zepbound to treat sleep apnea could open the door for more patients to access the treatment through insurance. Weight-loss drugs like Zepbound aren’t covered by Medicare, the US health program for the elderly and disabled.

“If approved, we expect Zepbound could potentially receive reimbursement from Medicare agencies,” given the prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea in older people, BMO Capital Markets analyst Evan Seigerman said in a note. 

Regulators’ green light would also give Lilly new ammunition to compete with Novo Nordisk A/S, whose own blockbuster weight-loss medication, Wegovy, will now be covered by Medicare prescription drug plans for some patients with heart-related conditions. Novo has said it may study a next-generation weight-loss drug for sleep apnea, but it’s not testing whether Ozempic or Wegovy help with the condition. 

While there are medications available to help with the drowsiness associated with sleep apnea, Zepbound has “the potential to be the first pharmaceutical treatment for underlying disease,” Jeff Emmick, Lilly’s senior vice president of product development, said in the statement.

Weight loss has been known to alleviate sleep apnea, which impacts more than 23 million American adults with obesity, according to estimates from the analytics firm Airfinity. If it were to be widely covered by insurers, Zepbound could help prevent up to 5.6 million cases of the disorder by 2030, the firm said. 

Still, Airfinity analysts said it was unlikely Zepbound and other GLP-1 drugs would make the disorder disappear completely. 

Lilly’s studies enrolled 469 patients with obesity and sleep apnea, some treated with Zepbound alone, and others using breathing devices in conjunction with the drug.

Zepbound led to a greater mean reduction in apnea-hypopnea index events per hour in patients using the devices, compared to the group that only got the drug. The index is a measure used to assess the severity of sleep apnea by recording the number of times a person’s breathing shows a restricted or complete block of airflow per hour of sleep. Lilly also reported results from the trial that included people who dropped out early, which were slightly lower, but still above the 50% threshold analysts were looking for.

Patients with sleep apnea typically need to use breathing machines or implants that help open airways. The machines can be costly, ranging in the hundreds or thousands of dollars apiece. Upkeep, service and replacement parts could average another $330 to $900 each year, according to GoodRx. 

Analysts were split on whether the data would negatively affect the makers of implants and breathing devices. According to Airfinity’s analysis, weight loss drugs could shrink the market for machines by more than 11% in the next few years.

JPMorgan analysts said the drug will not replace breathing machines altogether, and expects it to instead be used alongside other treatments, like those of Inspire Medical Systems Inc.. Inspire gained as much as 9.6% in New York. 

--With assistance from Naomi Kresge.

(Adds analyst comment, shares from fourth paragraph.)

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