Study: Anti-Obesity Medication Twice as Effective as Most Weight Loss Drugs

One-third of study participants treated with semaglutide lost at least 20% (46 pounds) of their baseline weight, which is a common reduction for many patients who have had bariatric surgery in the 1 to 3 years following their procedure.

New research has found that subcutaneous semaglutide taken once a week is nearly twice as effective at helping individuals lose weight than some current weight loss drugs on the market, offering a potential new treatment for type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related conditions, according to the study.

Taken once a week through a subcutaneous injection of 2.4 mg, the drug works by suppressing appetite centers in the brain to reduce hunger and calorie intake. Obesity affects more than 40% of adults in the United States, according to a press release, and is associated with conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, sleep apnea, some forms of cancer, and decreased life expectancy.

“This is by far the most effective intervention we have seen for weight management when you compare it to many of the currently existing drugs,” said corresponding author Robert Kushner, MD, a professor of medicine and medical education at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a press release. “Semaglutide sets the bar for a new generation of more effective weight-loss medications.”

The study investigated the efficacy and safety of taking a weekly injection of semaglutide along with individual lifestyle counseling sessions. It included 1961 overweight or obese adults and lasted 68 weeks from fall 2019 to spring 2020. Overall, 94.3% of the participants completed the trial.

Participants started from an average baseline weight of 230 pounds and a body mass index of 38 kg/m2. According to the press release, participants saw an average weight loss of 14.9% (34 pounds) compared with 2.4% (5 pounds) for the placebo group.

Compared with other weight loss drugs on the market, which can help patients lose between 6% and 11% of their body weight, the investigators said semaglutide is approximately 1.5 to 2 times more effective. Approximately 70% of study participants reached a weight loss of at least 10% of their baseline body weight, which Kushner said is clinically relevant.

“A lot of the health concerns we see in people who are struggling with their weight, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, tend to improve when they reach a weight loss of 10%,” Kushner said in the press release.

Furthermore, the investigators said one-third of study participants treated with semaglutide lost at least 20% (46 pounds) of their baseline weight, which is a common reduction for many patients who have had bariatric surgery in the 1 to 3 years following their procedure.

“It’s the very first time we have a medication that even begins to approach the weight loss people achieve with bariatric surgery,” Kushner said in the press release. He added that bariatric surgery is still more effective than this medication, but surgery carries additional risks.

After the intervention, the participants who received semaglutide reported improved physical functional, such as walking faster and climbing stairs with less pain. Additionally, they achieved greater improvements in their blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood glucose control. The drug would be intended for long-term use, according to the press release.

Adverse effects included mild-to-moderate nausea and diarrhea that were transient and generally resolved without permanent discontinuation from the study. Semaglutide is currently on the market to help manage diabetes, but it is approved only for a lower dose. The FDA is currently reviewing its use at a higher dose with the explicit use of helping patients lose weight, according to the press release.

REFERENCE

New anti-obesity medication almost twice as effective as most currently approved weight-loss drugs [news release]. Northwestern University; February 10, 2021. https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2021/02/anti-obesity-medication/. Accessed February 12, 2021.