According to a study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, a new drug was found to be so effective against obesity that it could help patients avoid complications such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Semaglutide is currently marketed by its maker Novo Nordisk for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. After manufacturers found that patients taking the drug had lost weight over the course of treatment, Northwestern University researchers decided to test its effectiveness at a much higher dose against obesity.
The study, which was conducted at 129 centers in 16 countries, enrolled nearly 2,000 obese people who were injected with either semaglutide or a placebo weekly for 68 weeks. Both groups also received diet and exercise advice during the study. The researchers found that people who received doses of semaglutide lost an average of nearly 15 percent of their body weight, while those who received the placebo lost 2.4 percent of their body weight. More than a third of the participants who received semaglutide lost more than 20 percent of their body weight.
“This is the weight management breakthrough obesity patients have been waiting for,” said Thomas Wadden, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of the paper. “I’ve been with Penn in the weight management business for 40 years and this is one of the most exciting developments I’ve seen in my career.”
The results are especially intriguing now, as obesity is viewed as a major risk factor for COVID-19 complications.
Most obesity drugs currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reduce body weight by around 7 percent. With that amount of weight loss, “many people still feel overweight even after their health has improved,” he said.
Patients who took semaglutide in the study had only mild gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea in the past when compared to anti-obesity drugs. Wadden also pointed out that drugs for the treatment of obesity that are currently approved for use can only be taken for a short period of time, while researchers visualize the prescription of semaglutide as a drug for a chronic condition. Additional studies will be conducted to determine the effectiveness of an increased dose of the drug in patients with type 2 diabetes who were not included in this study, as well as the maintenance of weight loss in patients.
“Patients are expected to be able to take these drugs over the long term as well as drugs for cholesterol and diabetes,” said Wadden. “You don’t take that for four months and then stop. Health care providers need to realize that this is a chronic treatment for a chronic health problem. “
However, it’s important not to overlook the lack of research on the long-term effects of semaglutide, said Farzaneh Daghigh, a professor of biochemistry at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine who was not involved in the study. The drug is a synthetic version of a hormone that causes feelings of fullness in the brain and intestines.
Daghigh said the drug is likely to be expensive, pointing out that the lower dose of semaglutide currently prescribed for patients with type 2 diabetes costs $ 1,000 per month.
She also warned that the study was funded by drug maker Novo Nordisk.
“When these kinds of pharmaceutical therapies come out, we scientists want independent groups to do this study,” she said.
Daghigh stressed that it is also important to teach people how to eat healthier foods and plant-based diets, rather than relying on drug therapies to fight obesity.
“I can see the benefit of using this on certain patients, but you can’t inject the drug forever,” she said. “If the patients don’t know how to act afterwards, that’s a problem. All of this makes me very reluctant to cheer. “
However, Wadden hopes the study’s results will accelerate research into anti-obesity drugs.
“The average patient in this study lost 30 pounds,” he said. “This is an important milestone as it will give a person better control over obesity-related health complications such as high blood pressure, blood sugar, and sleep apnea. People feel different, feel different, exercise more comfortably, buy clothes they find more attractive, and play with their children and grandchildren. “