According to a major global study involving UCL researchers, about 35% of people who tried a new drug for treating obesity lost greater than or equal to 20% of their body weight. The findings from the trial were published on 11th February in the New England Journal for Medicine. It is being considered a “gamechanger” for bringing improvements in treating obesity and helping UL reduce the impact of diseases like COVID-19.
Semaglutide, the new drug, hijacks the body’s appetite-regulating system in the brain which leads to reduced hunger and lesser calorie intake.
Rachel Batterham is one of the principal authors of the study which involved almost 2,000 people in 16 different countries. She is a professor of Obesity, Diabetes and Endocrinology and leads the Centre for Obesity Research at UCL and the UCLH Centre for Weight Management.
Professor Batterham 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 which was only possible through weight-loss surgery.”
She added, “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 from 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 drug for treating obesity was submitted for regulatory approval to be used for treating obesity to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
More about the drug for treating obesity
The drug, Semaglutide is clinically approved to be prescribed for patients with Type 2 diabetes, but it is typically prescribed in lower doses of 1mg. It has a compound structurally similar to the human glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) hormone which is released into our bloodstream from our gut after eating.
GLP-1 leads to weight loss and hence treating obesity by reducing hunger, increasing the feeling of satiation which makes people eat less and take in lesser calories. The phase III randomised controlled trial included 1,961 adults who were either overweight or had obesity. It took place in 16 countries at 129 sites across Europe, Asia, North America and South America.
The participants were also provided with individual face to face or phone counselling sessions from dietitians every month to help them stick to the reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity. They provided guidance, motivation and behavioural strategies. Participants also received incentives like kettlebells or food scales to note progress and milestones.