New drug could be a ‘gamechanger’ for treating obesity

New drug could be a ‘gamechanger’ for treating obesity
© iStock-BrianAJackson

A new drug has been hailed as a ‘gamechanger’ for treating obesity after leading to a 20% reduction of total body weight in participants of a major global study.

The large-scale international trial shows that the drug semaglutide has major potential for improving the health of people with obesity and could play a big part in helping the UK to reduce the impact of diseases, such as COVID-19.

The findings of the study, which was led by UCL researchers, have been published in the New England Journal for Medicine.

Reducing obesity

In the trial, one third of people who took the drug for treating obesity lost around 20% of their total body weight – an average of nearly three stone. This was accompanied by reductions in risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, as well as reported improvements in their overall quality of life. The drug works by hijacking the body’s own appetite regulating system in the brain which leads to reduced hunger and calorie intake.

Rachel Batterham, Professor of Obesity, Diabetes and Endocrinology who leads the Centre for Obesity Research at UCL and the UCLH Centre for Weight Management, is one of the principal authors on the paper, 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 impact of obesity on health has been brought into sharp focus by COVID-19 where obesity markedly increases the risk of dying from the virus, as well as increasing the risk of many life-limiting serious diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease and certain types of cancers. This drug could have major implications for UK health policy for years to come.”

The trial’s UK Chief Investigator, Professor John Wilding of the 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.”

Semaglutide has now 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).

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