People who are looking for an easy way to lose weight may soon find the answer in an anti-diabetic medication. Although nothing beats a healthy diet and exercise, a recent international trial for an existing drug that suppresses appetite has led to participants losing more than a fifth of their body weight. The study, conducted on almost 2,000 people, showed an average 15kg weight loss during the 15-month trial. Keep on reading to find out the name of the drug.
Scientists said the results could mark a “new era” in treating obesity with even more therapies on the horizon. The findings from the large-scale international trial were published in the New England Journal for Medicine and are being hailed as a “game-changer” for improving the health of people with obesity.
One Patient’s Experience Was ‘Effortless’
Jan, from Kent, lost 28kg (four stone), equivalent to more than a fifth of her body weight. “The drug changed my life and completely altered my approach to food,” she told BBC. She said dieting had made her “miserable” but taking the drug was completely different as she was less hungry.
Unfortunately, the drug isn’t a miracle cure. Now that Jan has come off the trial her appetite has returned and she is putting back on the weight. She said: “It felt effortless losing weight while on the trial, but now it has gone back to feeling like a constant battle with food.”
The name of the appetite suppressant used in the study is called Semaglutide. Individuals with type 2 diabetes may be familiar with it as a treatment for their condition, but this trial looked at giving it at higher doses.
The drug works by hijacking the body’s appetite levels and mimicking a hormone – called GLP1 – that is released after eating a filling meal. This in turn would trick the brain into reducing hunger and calorie intake.
The trial gave 2.4mg dose of semaglutide to some participants via injection; similar to the way people with diabetes inject insulin. The placebo group received a dummy injection. Both groups were given advice on diet and fitness. The findings showed people lost an average of 15kg on semaglutide compared with 2.6kg without.
Rachel Batterham, Professor of Obesity, Diabetes and Endocrinology said: “The findings of this study represent a major breakthrough for improving the health of people with obesity. Three quarters (75%) of people who received semaglutide 2.4mg lost more than 10% of their body weight and more than one-third lost more than 20%. No other drug has come close to producing this level of weight loss – this really is a gamechanger. For the first time, people can achieve through drugs what was only possible through weight-loss surgery.”
The trial’s UK Chief Investigator, Professor John Wilding (University of Liverpool) said: “This is a significant advance in the treatment of obesity. Semaglutide is already approved and used clinically at a lower dose for treatment of diabetes, so as doctors we are already familiar with its use. For me this is particularly exciting as I was involved in very early studies of GLP1 (when I worked at the Hammersmith Hospital in the 1990s we were the first to show in laboratory studies that GLP1 affected appetite), so it is good to see this translated into an effective treatment for people with obesity.”
With evidence from this trial, semaglutide has been submitted for regulatory approval as a treatment for obesity to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Prof Batterham expects the drug to be used initially by specialist weight loss clinics rather than being widely available.
About The Drug
Semaglutide is clinically approved to be used for patients with type 2 diabetes, though is typically prescribed in much lower doses of 1mg. In the trial, some participants given 2.4mg doses experienced mild-to-moderate nausea and diarrhoea that were temporary and generally resolved without having to quit the study.
The drug possesses a compound structurally similar to (and mimics) the human glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) hormone, which is released into the blood from the gut after meals. GLP-1 induces weight loss by reducing hunger, increasing feelings of fullness and thereby helping people eat less and reduce their calorie intake.
In addition to weight loss, semaglutide also improved cardiovascular risk factors including greater reductions in waist circumference, BMI, systolic and diastolic blood pressures, HbA1c, fasting plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, and fasting lipid levels, as well as physical functioning scores and quality of life.
Currently, five-year studies are taking place to see if weight loss can be sustained in the long term.
Prof Sir Stephen O’Rahilly, from the University of Cambridge, said: “The amount of weight loss achieved is greater than that seen with any licensed anti-obesity drug.
“This is the start of a new era for obesity drug development with the future direction being to achieve levels of weight loss comparable to semaglutide, while having fewer side effects.”
Dr Duane Mellor, a dietitian and from Aston Medical School, said: “It is useful to have a potential option to help people lose weight, however we need to acknowledge that weight loss will still need lifestyle change, and that any medication or change in lifestyle can bring potential risks and side-effects. “So, it is always wise to speak to a health professional before trying to lose weight.”