STOCKHOLM, Sweden — An injection that prevents Type 2 diabetes by making obese people feel full has been developed by scientists. It more than halves risk of the disease in overweight individuals, according to new research.
Researchers in the United States are hailing the new drug as a “game changer.” It contains an appetite suppressing drug called semaglutide.
“Semaglutide reduces the future risk of diabetes by over 60% in patients with obesity – this figure is similar whether a patient has prediabetes or normal blood sugar levels,” explains lead author Dr. Timothy Garvey of the University of Alabama at Birmingham in a media release.
Sustained treatment is required to maintain the benefit. “Given the rising rates of obesity and diabetes, semaglutide could be used effectively to reduce the burden of these chronic diseases.”
The medication, branded as Wegovy, makes people feel fuller and not as hungry, so they eat less and avoid gaining excess weight. Medicine watchdog NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) has recommended that the drug should be made available in countries outside the U.S. as well.
Diabetes risk rises again when patients come off semaglutide
According to the CDC, more than 122 million Americans are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Obesity raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes six-fold.
The study of 1,961 overweight or obese Americans found those receiving the semaglutide therapy for 16 months were 61 percent less likely to develop diabetes over the next decade. All participants received weekly 2.4mg doses for 20 weeks. They then either remained on semaglutide or were switched to a placebo for the next 48 weeks.
The first group shed an average of 17 percent of their body mass. However, the group who stopped taking the medication did not see the same benefits. Results were confirmed by a second trial of 803 vulnerable participants. After 20 weeks, diabetes risk rose to over 15 percent in those who switched to the placebo.
However, the risk continued falling among their peers who carried on taking semaglutide, indicating sustained treatment is necessary.
All participants received advice on diet and exercise during the study. A tool called CMDS (Cardiometabolic Disease Staging) predicted diabetes risk over the next 10 years. It uses a formula based on sex, age, race, BMI (body mass index), and blood pressure, as well as levels of blood glucose and fats and has been shown to be highly accurate.
Obesity drug could replace risky weight loss surgeries
Semaglutide could provide an alternative to gastric bypass surgery, where patients are fitted with a band to reduce calorie intake. It was recently approved in the U.S. as an obesity treatment.
“Semaglutide appears to be the most effective medication to date for treating obesity and is beginning to close the gap with the amount of weight loss following bariatric surgery,” says Dr. Garvey. “Its approval was based on clinical trial results showing that it reduces weight by over 15% on average, when used together with a healthy lifestyle program. This amount of weight loss is sufficient to treat or prevent a broad array of obesity complications that impair health and quality of life and is a game changer in obesity medicine.”
Obesity affects over four in 10 U.S. adults, increasing the risk of a host of life-threatening illnesses.
The team presented their findings at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) in Stockholm.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.