Already approved by the FDA for type 2 diabetes, semaglutide’s success in shedding weight in obese patients was documented in a clinical trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers from Northwestern University administered the drug to trial participants at a much higher dose than the standard for type-2 diabetes.
The trial involved almost 2,000 participants, who injected themselves weekly with either the drug or a placebo for 68 weeks. On average, those who injected the drug lost almost 15% of their body weight. The placebo group reduced their weight by almost 2.5%, on average.
Over one-third of participants who received the drug experienced a 20 percent or greater reduction in body weight. Moreover, symptoms of diabetes improved in many participants.
Described as a “game-changer” by lead researcher of the study, Dr. Robert F. Kushner, semaglutide demonstrated far greater weight loss potential than other hitherto obesity drugs on the market.
And unlike other FDA-approved weight loss drugs, semaglutide seems to have minimal digestive side effects.
The New York Times report says five FDA-approved weight loss drugs are limited in use due to side effects. Of these five, the most effective one is phentermine. But phentermine only yields a weight loss of 7.5% on average. Phentermine can be taken only for a short time, and most often, after the drug is stopped, the lost weight is regained.
Although semaglutide results in less weight loss than bariatric surgery, the drug is obviously far less invasive. The latter, says New York Times, permanently alters the digestive system.
Despite the promising weight-loss results of the drug in the trial, New York Times adds that most insurers refuse to pay for weight-loss drugs. Consequently, semaglutide is likely to be costly. When used for its already FDA-approved use for diabetes, the drug costs approximately $1,000 per month, which most insurers cover because it’s for diabetes, not weight loss.
Semaglutide is a synthetic version of a naturally occurring hormone that acts on appetite centers in the brain and in the gut, producing feelings of satiety. A high-dose regimen of the drug has not been studied long enough to know if it has serious long-term consequences.
And it is expected that patients would have to take it for a lifetime to prevent the weight loss from coming back.
According to Novo Nordisk, Ozempic®, which is the brand name for semaglutide, is a glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist. It’s an adjunct to diet and exercise, to improve glycemic control in adults with type 2 diabetes.
Researchers believe a higher dose of semaglutide results in weight loss by simulating the action of satiety hormones. But it’s not yet known if there are long-term side effects of taking the drug at the higher weight-loss-inducing dose. Because the lost weight would likely come back if the drug is no longer taken, users may have to take semaglutide every day for life.