The findings from a large-scale international trial of a drug already used to combat diabetes are being hailed as a “game changer” in the UK for improving the health of people with obesity and could even play a major part in helping reduce the impact of diseases such as Covid-19.
The drug, semaglutide, works by hijacking the body’s own appetite regulating system in the brain leading to reduced hunger and calorie intake, according to a study published this week in the ‘New England Journal for Medicine’. One third (35 per cent) of people who took the new drug for treating obesity lost more than one-fifth of their total body weight, according to the major global study involving University College London (UCL) researchers and almost 2,000 trial participants in 16 countries.
Principal author Rachel Batterham, Professor of Obesity, Diabetes and Endocrinology who leads the Centre for Obesity Research at UCL and the UCLH Centre for Weight Management, said: “The findings of this study represent a major breakthrough for improving the health of people with obesity. Three quarters (75 per cent) of people who received semaglutide 2.4mg lost more than 10 per cent of their body weight and more than one-third lost more than 20 per cent.
“No other drug has come close to producing this level of weight loss – this really is a game changer. For the first time, people can achieve through drugs what was only possible through weight-loss surgery.”
The average participant in the trial lost 15.3kg; this was accompanied by reductions in risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, such as waist circumference, blood fats, blood sugar and blood pressure and reported improvements in their overall quality of life.
“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,” added Prof. Batterham.
The trial’s UK Chief Investigator, Professor John Wilding from the University of Liverpool, said semaglutide is already approved and used clinically at a lower dose for treatment of diabetes, so doctors are already familiar with its use.
“So it is good to see this translated into an effective treatment for people with obesity,” he said.
With evidence from the international trial, semaglutide has been submitted for regulatory approval as a treatment for obesity to the UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The international trial was funded by the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk.