‘Game changer’ weight loss drug trial ends successfully - but is it a long term solution?

Thursday, 11th February 2021, 12:31 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th February 2021, 12:32 pm
‘Game changer’ weight loss drug trial ends successfully - but is it a long term solution? (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new weight loss drug which has just finished its clinical trial has been heralded as a potential “game changer” in obesity treatment.

People who participated in a trial for a new appetite suppressant lost an average of 15kg - or two stone - during a 15 month long period. Just less than a third of those who took semaglutide - the drug being trialled - lost a fifth of their body weight over the course of treatment.

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However, whether the drug can be used as a long term solution for weight loss remains to be seen.

One of the researchers from the trial, Professor Rachel Batterham, told the BBC: "This is a game changer in the amount of weight loss it causes.

"I have spent the last 20 years doing obesity research, up until now we've not had an effective treatment for obesity apart from bariatric surgery.”

How does the drug work?

Semaglutide suppresses a person’s appetite by replicating a natural hormone which is released in the body after you eat a filling meal.

During the trial, participants were given a weekly injection of the drug, alongside diet and fitness advice, over a period of 15 months.

Some people involved in the trial were given the real drug, while others were given a placebo, with both groups receiving the same fitness and diet advice.

The control group which received the placebo lost 2.6kg on average, compared with 15kg among those taking the semaglutide.

Is it a viable treatment?

Semaglutide is already taken by some people with Type 2 diabetes, but the trial looked at using a larger dose specifically as an obesity treatment.

The trial did find that there were some side effects to the treatment, including nausea, diarrhoea, constipation and vomiting, and it is likely that the drug would only be used by specialists rather than being prescribed.

Participants also found that their appetite returned once they’d stopped receiving treatment, with many reporting that they’d started putting weight back on once the trial finished.

However, researchers believe the results from this first major trial are still encouraging.

University of Cambridge professor, Sir Stephen O'Rahilly, said: "The amount of weight loss achieved is greater than that seen with any licensed anti-obesity drug.

"This is the start of a new era for obesity drug development with the future direction being to achieve levels of weight loss comparable to semaglutide, while having fewer side-effects."