Weight-loss jab delivers stunning result in trials

A new drug, administered via needle, can help with weight loss, trials have shown.

The drug, semaglutide, is marketed under the brand name Wegovy. It mimics a hormone known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), a naturally occurring hormone produced by the body after eating and which suppresses appetite.

Acting in the same way as GLP-1, semaglutide suppresses hunger. In a trial, 1961 adults with a BMI over 30 (the mean was 37.9) were allocated in a 2:1 ratio to treatment with semaglutide or a placebo.

Each participant self-administered weekly injections of 2.4mg of semaglutide or a placebo. The trial was a double blind, meaning that neither the participants nor the researchers knew which participant was part of which group.

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In addition to self-administering, each participant followed a reduced calorie diet, increased their physical activity and received regular counselling sessions to help them maintain the lifestyle changes.

Participants of both groups lost weight, but those receiving semaglutide lost significantly more. Those in the placebo group of the trial, which ran for 68 weeks, on average, reduced their weight by 2.4 per cent. Those in the treatment group (those actually receiving semaglutide) lost an average of 14.9 per cent of their body mass.

Based on those raw figures, the signs would appear to be very positive and, indeed, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved the use of semaglutide as a weight-loss treatment.

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The UK-based National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has called for the drug to be made available for those living with obesity.

But the promising results have been accompanied by scepticism among some experts.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic, welcomed the results, saying: “Any advance to help individuals to reduce their risk for common chronic conditions is a good thing.”

However, she also added a ‘rider’. “What I would like to see is the data on long-term weight loss maintenance.”

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Like many commercial diets, the use of semaglutide delivers short-term benefits, but sustainability is questionable. One trial participant said her appetite returned when the trial ended and she began to regain weight.

“Now that I am no longer taking the drug, unfortunately, my weight is returning to what it used to be. It felt effortless losing weight while on the trial, but now it has gone back to feeling like a constant battle with food,” she said.

NICE recommends that semaglutide be prescribed for a period of no longer than two years and generally only for those with a BMI of over 35.

Wegovy would likely be packaged in four self-injectable pre-dose pens which would need to be injected weekly. However, is not yet available in Australia. It was accepted for evaluation by the TGA in March 2021 and is already TGA approved in the US.

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Written by Andrew Gigacz

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