The last medical breakthrough that had an immediate real-world impact was the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer (PFE  ) and Moderna (MRNA  ) which marked the beginning of the end of the most acute phase of the pandemic.

Another major challenge facing humanity is obesity as rates have skyrocketed around the world due to a combination of factors. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 13% of the global adult population is obese, while 40% are overweight. This brings about an assortment of additional risks such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and susceptibility to cancer. For health systems, it also means greater amounts of strain.

Here, there is also hope from a pharmaceutical perspective based on promising clinical data from a trial of Novo Nordisk's (NVO  ) anti-obesity drug, semaglutide, which showed impressive results in clinical trials for teenagers and adults. The drugs are shown to mimic hormones that lower blood sugar and curb appetite by managing leptin levels.

A group was administered weekly injections for 16 months, along with some lifestyle changes. More than one-third of participants were able to reduce their weight by more than 20%. This is quite substantive and significantly better than the control group.

In total, the average weight loss of the group receiving semaglutide injections lost 14.9% of their body weight vs the control group which lost 2.4%. Equally important, there was also a lack of serious side effects, other than nausea and vomiting. In fact, early evidence shows that semaglutide seems to improve cardio health while previous weight loss drugs had heart issues as a side effect which curbed their use.

One caveat is that injections will cost approximately $1,000 per month, although insurers seem open to covering these classes of drugs. And, there could be other drugs on the way such as Eli Lilly's (LLY  ) tirzepatide, which showed even more impressive results in clinical trials at 21% weight loss vs 3% for the control group.

Of course, there remain questions such as whether people will need to stay on these drugs in order to maintain their weight loss, or if they can be taken off of them. Early indications are that many trial participants regained a portion of their weight after stopping use of these drugs.