(Bloomberg) -- The UK is looking into making obesity drugs more widely available, as a new class of medicines show potential for easing the burden of weight-related diseases on the healthcare system.

A two-year £40 million ($49.6 million) pilot program will assess how obesity drugs such as Novo Nordisk A/S’s Wegovy can be made more accessible to communities by expanding weight-management services outside of hospitals, the government said Tuesday in a statement. 

Millions of people globally are clamoring for obesity drugs after trials have shown medicines like Wegovy can help a person shed as much as 15% of body weight. Demand for Wegovy, and a related Novo diabetes drug Ozempic, rocketed after celebrities and high-profile business people said they’d taken the drugs. Another medicine from Eli Lilly & Co. has shown even greater weight loss in trials and may be approved in the US this year.

Obesity costs the UK government £6.5 billion a year as one of the leading causes of severe health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. The UK has already agreed to make Wegovy available to people with obesity and one weight-related health condition via specialist weight management services, which are largely hospital based. 

Under current guidelines, about 35,000 people would have access to Wegovy. With the pilot program, the government wants to test whether tens of thousands more could be eligible by allowing local doctors to prescribe the drugs with NHS support in communities.

“Using the latest drugs to support people to lose weight will be a game-changer by helping to tackle dangerous obesity-related health conditions,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement, adding that the medicines could help cut NHS waiting lists.

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