Semaglutide is a compound that's already being developed as a treatment for diabetes, by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. According to a new study conducted by scientists from the University of Leeds, however, it may serve another valuable purpose – it could greatly aid the obese is losing weight.

The chemical structure of semaglutide is very similar to that of GLP-1, a naturally-occurring hormone that is thought to act on the appetite control centre in the hypothalamus region of the brain, reducing feelings of hunger. With that in mind, a team led by Prof. John Blundell was recruited by Novo Nordisk, to see if it could also be used as a weight-loss medication.

The study incorporated 28 test subjects, all of whom were clinically obese, with a body mass index range of 30 to 45 kg/m2. For 12 weeks, half of them received a weekly dose of semaglutide, while the other half were given a placebo – neither group knew which they were getting.

At the end of that period, they were invited to a testing center to have their body weight and body composition recorded, where they were given a lunch and evening meal. They were told to eat as much as they wanted in order to feel "pleasantly full." The amount that each person consumed was noted, along with their food-type preferences.

The whole 12-week process was then repeated, with the placebo group now receiving semaglutide and vice-versa.

It was found that when given the meals, the people receiving semaglutide ate considerably less than their placebo-taking counterparts, and showed less of a preference for high-fat foods. More specifically, it was noted that on average, their daily energy intake (which indicates the amount of food consumed) was 24 percent lower than that of the placebo group. This in turn resulted in them experiencing an average weight loss of 5 kg (11 lb) over the 12-week period.

"What was striking was the potency of the drug's action," says Blundell. "We saw results in 12 weeks which may take as long as six months with other anti-obesity medication … The drug reduced hunger but also cravings for food and the sensation of wanting to eat – and these had previously been thought to stem from different parts of the brain."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism.

Source: University of Leeds