A drug that is currently used to treat diabetes has been found to reduce body weight by up to 20 percent in people who are obese. After receiving a weekly dose of the treatment for 68 weeks, study participants shed an average of 15.3 kilograms (33.7 lbs), with 35 percent losing more than a fifth of their body weight.
The study, which appears in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved 1,961 people from 16 countries across Europe, Asia, North America, and South America, with an average body weight of 105 kilograms (231.5 lbs). Participants were given 2.4 milligrams of a drug called semaglutide once a week, delivered via subcutaneous injection.
Semaglutide is currently approved at lower dosages as a treatment for type II diabetes, though none of the participants in this study were diabetic. By the 68th week, 86.4 percent of participants had shed 5 percent of their body weight, while 69.1 percent and 50.5 percent had lost 10 and 15 percent of their body weight respectively.
Given that people with obesity are typically recommended to try and lose between 10 and 15 percent of their body weight, this outcome is highly significant.
Commenting on these results, study author Rachel Batterham, who leads the Centre for Obesity Research at University College London, said “The findings of this study represent a major breakthrough for improving the health of people with obesity.”
“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."
Semalgutide mimics the action of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which the gut secretes into the bloodstream after a meal in order to stimulate a feeling of fullness and reduce hunger. Alongside their weekly dose of the drug, study participants received regular counseling from dieticians in order to help them reduce their calorie intake and increase their physical activity.
In addition to experiencing an average body mass index decrease of 5.54, participants exhibited reductions in risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, such as waist circumference, blood sugar, blood fats, and blood pressure.
Based on these findings, semaglutide has now been submitted for approval as a treatment for obesity to the British, European, and North American drug regulatory authorities.
Despite these hugely encouraging findings, the study authors concede that the majority of their participants were white and female, and more research may be required in order to determine its efficacy in other patient groups. They also note that semaglutide sometimes produces temporary side effects such as vomiting and diarrhea.
A number of medical experts have responded to this extraordinary study in order to hail the findings while urging caution. For Instance, Tom Sanders, Professor Emeritus of Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College London, said that “while this study shows that patients on active treatment do lose a lot of weight it does not show what happens when treatment stops. The challenge post weight loss is to prevent a regain in weight.”
He goes on to say that semaglutide should not be considered a “magic bullet” for obesity and that long-term behavioral changes such as exercise and improved diet will still be necessary for those attempting to lose weight.