Repurposed diabetes drug drives weight loss in obese adolescents
Following successful trials in adults and subsequent FDA approval last year, an emerging obesity drug has now shown promise in overweight adolescents. The treatment was shown to induce similar weight loss effects in this younger cohort, while also improving certain markers of cardiovascular health.
Called semaglutide, the drug in question was actually approved as a treatment for type 2 diabetes in 2017, but has also shown promise in the realm of weight loss. It works by mimicking the chemical structure of a hormone in the body that acts on the appetite control center in the brain to reduce feelings of hunger, and a small 2017 study demonstrated its weight loss potential in a set of 28 obese subjects.
This was followed by a Phase III trial involving more than 2,000 obese subjects, who received weekly injections of the drug and were placed on weight-loss programs with lower calorie intakes and increases in physical activity. In this group, the authors observed an average weight loss of 15.3 kg (33.7 lb), and an average body mass index (BMI) reduction of 5.54%, along with reduced risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. The US FDA then approved semaglutide for weight loss in adults in June last year.
As the body of evidence continues to mount around the anti-obesity benefits of semaglutide in adults, its effects on adolescents had remained unclear. To shed some light on this, scientists have now conducted another study on 201 subjects aged 12 to 18 years who were overweight or obese, and were given weekly injections of either semaglutide or a placebo and were simultaneously counseled on nutrition and physical activity.
After 68 weeks, 72.5% of the semaglutide group had experienced weight loss of at least 5%, compared to just 17% in the placebo group. The semaglutide group had an average 16.1% decrease in their BMI, while the placebo group’s BMI rose by an average of 0.6%. The scientists again saw improvements in cardiovascular risk factors, including waist circumference, cholesterol and blood sugar control.
"The results are amazing," said senior author Silva Arslanian, from the University of Pittsburgh. "For a person who is 5 foot, 5 inches [165 cm] tall and weighs 240 pounds [109 kg], the average reduction in BMI equates to shedding about 40 pounds [18 kg]."
The research was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.