Findings of a recent, major international study, funded by the company Novo Nordisk and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show that a drug called semaglutide could become a game-changer in the treatment of obesity, and help in cutting down on the global burden of disease, including COVID-19.
The phase III randomised controlled trial enrolled a total of 1,961 adults who were either overweight or obese, and took place at 129 sites in 16 countries across Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.
People struggling with obesity might soon find relief in the drug semaglutide, which shows tremendous promise in reducing hunger signaling and bodyweight. Image: HappyVeganFit via pixabay.com
Starting in autumn 2018, the participants received weekly subcutaneous injections of semaglutide at a dose of 2.4 mg. Nearly all participants (94.3%) completed the study, which lasted for 68 weeks. The only side effects were mild-to-moderate nausea and diarrhoea, which resolved over time.
In addition to the drug, the participants were also provided with individual over-the-phone or in-person counselling from registered dieticians regarding the reduced-calorie diet, physical activity, behavioural strategies, and motivation.
On average, those receiving the drug – randomly assigned in a 2:1 ratio against the placebo group – lost 15.3 kg of bodyweight (a 5.54 point reduction in BMI), while those receiving the inactive substance lost only 2.6 kg (a 0.92 point reduction in BMI) .
“Three quarters (75%) of people who received semaglutide […] lost more than 10% of their body weight and more than one-third lost more than 20%,” said Professor Rachel Batterham, one of the principal authors on the study.
As is often the case, weight loss was accompanied by reductions in risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, such as waist circumference, blood fats, blood sugar, blood pressure, as well as improved overall quality of life.
Semaglutide is clinically approved for use in patients with type 2 diabetes, albeit at a much lower dose of 1 mg. The drug’s effects are primarily explained by its containing a substance that mimics the human hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1).
Back in the 1990s, GLP-1 – typically released into the bloodstream from the gut after meals – was shown to induce weight loss by hijacking the brain’s appetite regulation system. The more GLP-1 is released, the fuller people feel and therefore the fewer calories they consume.
“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,” Batterham said.
The drug has already been submitted for regulatory approval for the treatment of obesity to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).