Obesity drug slashes risk of heart attack or stroke 'regardless of weight lost’

By Isabel Cameron

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Related tags Obesity GLP-1 Novo nordisk Eli lilly

Anti-obesity jabs could reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes or heart failure in obese people irrespective of the amount of weight they lose while using the medication, according to a new study.

A five-year trial investigated whether semaglutide, a drug currently sold under the brand names Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus, could reduce the risk of heart attacks or stroke in obese people without diabetes.

The study, ran by drugmaker Novo Nordisk, indicates that GLP-1 treatments could have positive effects beyond simply weight loss.

It is the most extensive examination of the drug​ so far, involving 17,604 adults aged 45 and over, from 41 countries.

Following a 20-week period of using semaglutide, 62% of patients experienced a loss of more than 5% of their body weight, as opposed to only 10% of patients in the placebo group.

However, the decrease in the risk of heart attacks, strokes, or heart failure remained consistent among patients who achieved more than a 5% reduction in body weight and those who experienced lesser weight loss.

Professor John Deanfield, who led the team of researchers at University College London (UCL), said the findings ‘have important clinical implications’.

“Our findings show that the magnitude of this treatment effect with semaglutide is independent of the amount of weight lost, suggesting that the drug has other actions which lower cardiovascular risk beyond reducing unhealthy body fat," he said.

“These alternative mechanisms may include positive impacts on blood sugar, blood pressure or inflammation, as well as direct effects on the heart muscle and blood vessels, or a combination of one or more of these.”

In August, researchers involved in the Select trial discovered that semaglutide decreased the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke by 20% in obese individuals with cardiovascular disease.

Professor Deanfield's study, one of two stemming from the Select trial, will be presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Venice. The second study, led by Professor Donna Ryan, examines semaglutide's prolonged impact on weight.

Ryan's study revealed that adults who are overweight or obese without diabetes can maintain weight loss with semaglutide for up to four years.

In addition, patients receiving semaglutide experienced an average reduction of 10.2% in their body weight and 7.7cm in waist circumference, in contrast to 1.5% and 1.3cm respectively in the placebo group.

At the two-year mark, approximately 52% of individuals receiving semaglutide had transitioned to a lower BMI category, whereas only 16% in the placebo group had done so.

“This degree of weight loss in such a large and diverse population suggests that it may be possible to impact the public health burden of multiple obesity-related illnesses,” Ryan added.

“While our trial focused on cardiovascular events, many other chronic diseases including several types of cancer, osteoarthritis, and anxiety and depression would benefit from effective weight management.”

GLP-1 medications have taken the pharmaceutical by storm, leading to supply shortages​ as demand rises and pitting Novo Nordisk against Eli Lilly.

As further details emerge about the benefits of GLP-1s and they continue to grow in popularity, the industry will likely have to navigate even greater demand.

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