Developmental drugs used to control diabetes could become the latest weapon in the fight against obesity by helping suppress appetite in overweight patients.
Semaglutide is currently being reviewed by US regulators ahead of a worldwide launch as an oral pill to help control type two diabetes.
Researchers at the University of Leeds and University of Leicester have found the drug also controls hunger by replicating a naturally occurring hormone that triggers appetite in the brain.
Studies have shown signs of rapid and significant weight loss in obese patients, offering hope to doctors they could soon benefit patients in the UAE struggling to lose weight by conventional means.
About 19 per cent of the UAE population either has diabetes or a pre-cursor to the condition, and almost 30 per cent of the nation is either overweight or obese.
With some unable to control their appetite and turning to bariatric surgery to lose weight, new medication to help suppress appetite would be welcome said Dr Job Simon, a consultant endocrinologist at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
“This new drug looks better than what is currently available so it has potential,” he said.
“It is stronger and will be available orally so will be more appealing for many patients.
“This UK study is what would be expected with these drugs, the only thing that is unclear is the level of weight loss.
“If the patient has not lost weight within three months of taking this drug, it is unlikely they will lose weight just from taking this drug.
“Once it is available many patients will likely switch to Semaglutide. It is a huge market, particularly in the UAE.”
Danish drug company Novo Nordisk is developing Semaglutide as a diabetes treatment, ahead of FDA approval. It has applied to the European Medicines Agency to sell the drug in Europe.
Scientists at the University of Leeds found obese patients in drug trials lost on average, 5kg during a 12-week period.
Most of that weight was body fat with subjects reporting reduced food cravings and less desire to consume fatty foods.
The drug targeted receptors affecting the brain’s appetite control system.
Lead researcher John Blundell, who is professor of psycho-biology at the university, said the results seen over 12 weeks were equivalent to what would usually be expected over a six-month period of taking similar anti-obesity medication.
Similar research at the University of Leicester was conducted on 632 people who took a daily dose of the medication to reduce blood diabetes markers.
It also helped two thirds of those people lose a ‘clinically meaningful’ amount of weight.
The results have been published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism.
Long term use of these drugs carry little side effects, but more potent versions taken in pill form could complement other weight loss methods and lifestyle changes.
“A small minority experience a level of nausea, but they are generally very safe to use to help reduce a patient’s appetite,” said Dr Simon.
“The usual advice of choosing not to eat certain foods does not work in a significant percentage of the population.
“That has led to a rise in obesity rates all over the world. Willpower will only get you so far. The next option for many is bariatric surgery and many patients are turning to that option.
“Appetite control is a very complex area and there are different parts of the brain that control appetite.
“Once it is fully understood, there will be a whole new generation of medicines developed to suit the market that can address obesity and diabetes better than injectable medicines.”
Other similar GLP-1 analogue drug have been available for some time, including Victoza or liraglutide and other similar weekly medicines, but are all injectable and expensive, costing between Dh600-1,000 a month.
Dr Prakash Pania, an endocrinologist at the Aster Clinic, said these type of drugs have also been proven to reduce risk of cardio vascular disease.
“Patients are not just given these drugs to suppress appetite or lose weight, but they are known to have other benefits,” he said.
“These are established drugs for diabetes management, but they are sometimes used by doctors ‘off label’ for patients who want to lose weight as they are known to be effective.
“We do not prescribe these drugs unless the patient has already undergone a period of lifestyle change and dietary modifications to try and lose weight conventionally.
“That should always be the first option ahead of medication as they are only effective in helping to lose 5 per cent of bodyweight.”