2021-02-15| Trials & Approvals

Study Shows New Diabetes Drug Induces Remarkable Weight Loss in Obese Patients

by Eduardo Longoria
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Obesity is an epidemic among people globally, and the increase in sedentary lifestyle over the past year has only worsened it immensely. A new drug called Semaglutide, which has been approved to treat type 2 diabetes, has proven to be very effective against obesity in a clinical trial conducted by its manufacturer, Novo Nordisk.


The New Drug

Semaglutide is a glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor (GLP-1) agonist, a drug that increases insulin production. It is intended to be administered as a once a week injection of 2.4mg and has been shown to induce a weight loss of up to 15% in patients over the course of 1.5 years. This already has clear advantages over the few other available anti-obesity drugs that require administration up to three times a week.

The US only has a few approved weight-loss drugs, including orlistat (Xenical), Qsymia, Saxenda, and Contrave. These drugs help reduce the amount of fat the body absorbs or work with accompanying appetite reducers. Generally, these drugs have been shown to help people lose 3%-7% of their total body weight.

Semaglutide does cause side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or constipation. Around 3/4 of patients who took the drug experienced these side effects compared to just under half of those who took the placebo. However, these side effects were typically transient and mild-to-moderate in severity.

“While a drug like this may prove useful in the short term for obtaining rapid weight loss in severe obesity, they are not a magic bullet for preventing or treating less severe degrees of obesity,” Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition at King’s College London, said in a statement.


The Clinical Trial

NCT03548935 is a double-blinded clinical trial conducted over a year and a half on 1961 adults with BMI greater than 30. These adults were non-diabetic and were randomly assigned in a 2:1 ratio to 68 weeks of treatment with once-weekly subcutaneous semaglutide or placebo, plus lifestyle intervention.

The average amount of weight lost by the placebo group was only 2.4% of the total, compared with the 15% seen in the treatment group. The semaglutide group showed a higher number of greater than 5% weight losses.

While only 80% of the volunteers continued through the entire course of the clinical trial, more participants who belonged to the drug arm discontinued treatment owing to gastrointestinal events (59 [4.5%] vs. 5 [0.8%]).

Participants who received semaglutide had a greater improvement with respect to cardiometabolic risk factors and a greater increase in participant-reported physical functioning from baseline than those who received placebo. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine journal.



Novo Nordisk owns an estimated 80% of the market for prescription obesity drugs. The company is making strong inroads into the obesity medicine market. The approval of semaglutide for obesity is part of a larger development plan for the drug. Novo Nordisk filed for FDA approval of a 2.0 mg dose of Ozempic in diabetes, and Novo’s oral version of semaglutide, Rybelsus, continues to gain share.

In addition to funding the research for semaglutide, they created Saxenda (the first injectable weight loss drug). Sales of this drug grew just 3% last year. When asked, CEO Lars Jørgensen said obesity sales had suffered because the pandemic was causing fewer patients to seek out medical treatments for weight loss.

Related Article: Weight-Management Drug Belviq Withdraws from US Market




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