Weekly injections of an appetite suppressant combined with a healthy lifestyle helped almost 2,000 overweight adults lose up to a fifth of their bodyweight in a recent trial.
In research funded by Danish pharmaceutical firm Novo Nordisk, a 2.4mg dose of semaglutide was found to encourage significant weight loss in 1,961 people with a body mass index of at least 30.
The double-blind trial, where half the subjects were given a placebo, saw an average change of 15 per cent in bodyweight in those who took the drug, compared with just 2.4 per cent in those who just changed their lifestyle.
In the most successful cases, 32 per cent of those taking the drug lost a fifth of their bodyweight.
The research published in the New England Medical Journal has been described as a "game changer" by one of the UK-based scientists involved in the study.
"I have spent the last 20 years doing obesity research, up until now we've not had an effective treatment for obesity apart from bariatric surgery,” said Professor Rachel Batterham, head of obesity research at University College London.
"This is a game-changer in the amount of weight loss it causes.”
Data was collected over 68 weeks, although those taking semaglutide were reported to experience mild side effects of nausea and diarrhoea.
The breakthrough could provide doctors with more options to treat obese patients who do not respond to lifestyle changes, and offer a safer alternative to bariatric surgery, which is not without risk.
In January, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi revealed its specialists had been asked to undertake emergency surgery on a 28-year-old Emirati patient who had recently undergone a bariatric procedure at another hospital, but contracted a severe infection.
The 150kg patient suffered a lung infection and was in a coma for month before recovering.
If approved, semaglutide could provide medics with another, safer weapon in the battle of the bulge.
The drug has been submitted for review by regulators, and although it is not currently available on the medical market, longer five-year studies are underway to see if the weight loss can be sustained.
In the UAE, around 31 per cent of women are obese and 25 per cent of men, according to recent figures.
Losing weight can cut the risk of heart disease and diabetes. More severe cases of Covid-19 have also been reported in obese patients.
A UK scientific think tank found death rates from the virus were considerably higher in obese patients.
The Coronavirus Clinical Characterisation Consortium reported 37 per cent higher death rates in those with a BMI over 30, when compared with patients at a healthy weight.
“Obese patients seem to suffer more from complications of Covid-19 and are more likely to require intensive care if infected,” said Dr Amal Upadhyay, a gastroenterologist at Aster Hospital in Mankhool.