Obesity: Science puts a new drug on the menu

yellow pill against yellow background

Healthcare, like life, is very much easier when you have options.  Being able to pick and choose what remedy might work in particular circumstances both increases the overall chances of success and can provide more elegant and tailored solutions.  It’s with this overall philosophy in mind that any new drug should be welcomed to the market.

One such drug is semaglutide, a new medication hailed as a ‘game-changer’ in the treatment of obesity.  A major global study published this month found that over a third of people who took the drug lost 20% or more of their bodyweight, while significantly more people lost around 10% of their bodyweight.  

One of the authors of the study, Professor Batterham at University College London said the results put the new drug well ahead of any comparable treatment.  "The findings of this study represent a major breakthrough for improving the health of people with obesity,” he said. “Three quarters (75%) of people who received semaglutide 2.4mg lost more than 10% of their body weight and more than one-third lost more than 20%. No other drug has come close to producing this level of weight loss - this really is a game changer. For the first time, people can achieve through drugs what was only possible through weight-loss surgery."

Of course, in the world of Covid-19 any mechanism by which we can help people lose weight becomes even more important, when it is now clearly accepted that obesity can aggravate the impact of the disease.  According to the study, the genius of semaglutide appears to be its ability to control the body’s appetite regulating system.  This in turn can lead to reduced hunger and therefore lower calorie intake.  According to the study the 2,000 people who took part in the trial lost nearly three stone (15.3kg) on average.  This weight loss was accompanied by a reduction in risk factors including heart disease and diabetes.

However successful the new drug may be, it is, of course, just one option.  When it comes to weight loss we should never loses sight of simple solutions, including changes to our lifestyle, exercise and diet.  These were all part of the study detailed above and should always be considered when it comes to dealing with weight loss.

Jo Travers BSc RD, founder of the London Nutritionist explained the situation neatly: “Medication is a useful tool in the arsenal for treating obesity, however it comes with significant side effects. Additionally, diet and lifestyle play a huge role in the cause of the disease and the psychological aspect of these isn't addressed by taking a pill. This can often mean rebound weight gain after the initial weight loss. It is extremely beneficial to see a dietitian when embarking on any weight loss plan, as dieticians are able to treat the causes of overweight rather than just the symptoms.”

As ever with new drugs it will take some time for semaglutide to pass the various regulatory approvals, in the UK, the EU and even the USA.  That said, there is every chance the new wonder drug will be on available in the short to medium term, offering one more option on the menu of choices available to treat obesity.