More uses beyond weight loss for Ozempic drug as stroke patients report improvement

Medics call for more research into impact of GLP-1 inhibitors used for diabetes after researchers find 20% reduction in deaths

Weight-loss injections like Ozempic and Wegovy could be used more widely to cut the risks of heart attacks, experts say. AP
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Weight-loss diabetes injections such as Ozempic and Wegovy could be used more widely to cut the risks of deaths caused by heart attacks, a large-scale study has shown.

Researchers focused on 17,604 adults who had pre-existing cardiovascular disease.

Deaths fell by 20 per cent among those who used the drugs, which contain the key ingredient semaglutide, the researchers from the University College London said.

There was a significant reduction in "major adverse events" such as heart attacks and stroke, they said in a report published in the journal Nature.

It is thought the drugs could prove as effective as statins, which have been widely used in healthcare to reduce blood cholesterol, cutting the risk of heart attack and stroke.

We see these biochemical changes when we do patient follow-ups in the clinic. Overall, it seems to be an extremely good trend
Dr Koshy Georgey, consultant cardiologist at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi

People aged over 45 diagnosed with cardiovascular disease were tested from 41 countries, from October 2018 to March 2021.

Of those, 72 per cent were men, with an average age of 61 and a body mass index of 33.

The calculation of someone’s height and weight is an indicator for obesity, with a reading between the range of 18.5 to 24.9 considered healthy, but above 25 overweight.

Half the study group were given weekly injections of semaglutide 2.4mg - a GLP-1 inhibitor that manages blood sugar levels in diabetics - and the other half a placebo.

Results showed those on semaglutide, which is used to make both Ozempic and Wegovy, had a 20 per cent lower risk of death from heart disease.

In the UAE, Ozempic is licensed to treat diabetes, and Wegovy licensed to treat weight loss and obesity.

On average, those taking the drug lost nine per cent of their body weight, but it was concluded the benefits in reducing heart disease were seen regardless of weight loss.

Helping those at risk

Dr Farhat Arsalan, a bariatric surgeon working Zulekha Hospital in Sharjah, said she would not typically recommend Ozempic for her patients for weight loss, but it did help her 46-year-old husband who suffered a heart attack in 2023.

With a history of heart disease in his family, Arsalan Ahmed Khan, lost 10kg on Ozempic, dropping his weight to 79kg.

Dr Farhat said the drug has given her husband a second chance.

“Within three months he lost almost 10kgs and his insulin resistance started to reduce," said Dr Farhat.

“His father and uncles died of heart problems in their 40s, so it was something we had to address.

“We started him on Ozempic, as a disease modifying agent because of his young age and family history. It has been very effective.”

Similar effect from competitors

Dr Koshy Georgey, a consultant cardiologist at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi, said comparable results had been seen in smaller studies of Mounjaro, commonly prescribed in the UAE.

Mounjaro is the brand name for a drug called tirzepatide.

“When the data around Mounjaro came out, there was a similar effect with the reduction of stroke and cardiac problems of around 25 to 28 per cent, but these studies were quite small so limited,” said Dr Georgey.

“To bring about information about the cardiac effects, it takes a decade at least to gain reliable patterns and results, at years one, two, five and ten of observational studies."

Dr Georgey noted that the cardiac benefits occurred without changes in weight, which he said was interesting as these medications are metabolic regulators.

“People taking these injections have also seen their cholesterol and sugar levels come down as a by-product of their changes in lifestyle.

“So their liver enzymes and all fatty liver markers have also come down.

“We see these biochemical changes when we do patient follow-ups in the clinic. Overall, it seems to be an extremely good trend.”

Healthcare costs

At current rates of increase, up to 7.5 million people are expected to be obese in the UAE by 2035.

Drugs such as semaglutide and tirzepatide could prove effective in curbing an obesity epidemic, which can bright with it a host of related health issues.

Annual associated costs to treat obesity related care in the UAE are expected to reach $12 billion within a decade, the World Obesity Federation has said.

A UAE breakthrough could be more health insurance companies recognising obesity as a disease, opening the gates for transformative treatments for those struggling to manage their weight.

In the UAE, Mounjaro costs about Dh1,734 for a month-long supply, while Wegovy and Ozempic are about Dh1,200.

Continuing trials into the effects of the so-called wonder drugs are also evaluating their ability to treat neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.

The drugs work in this area by improving glucose utilisation and reducing inflammation throughout the body, with the potential to slow down the effects of degeneration.

“Weight management has been a by-product of what was not their primary intention, to manage diabetes,” said Dr Georgey.

“We can see their effect is quite extensive.

“But I don't think many people who are taking semaglutide are worried about a 10-year cardiac or stroke outcome.

“They're more worried about the cosmetic outlook, but it's a good by-product."

Updated: May 18, 2024, 7:39 AM