A semaglutide ‘miracle’: repurposing diabetes drug for weight loss

Semaglutide’s ability to lead to weight loss is not in the realm of fantasy, but as real as the kilos and inches that users shed, and its repurposing is nearly complete.

Updated - July 10, 2023 04:25 pm IST

Published - July 07, 2023 03:19 pm IST

For those dealing with weight there may be a solution. Image for representational purpose only.

For those dealing with weight there may be a solution. Image for representational purpose only. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

People who have been struggling to cope with being overweight or obese and trying to shed a few kilos, over the past few years, have it seems been offered a silver bullet.

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While initially on trial for once-a-week diabetes therapy, an unexpected side effect – weight loss – swept the drug (semaglutide) off the shelves of a pharmacy and put it in the celebrity section on social media. Initial results seemed like a fantasy, as stunning weight loss was recorded in those put on the drug as a treatment for diabetes, and celebrities, even those without diabetes, did not take too long to cotton on, starting oral and injectible semaglutide doses to lose weight.

Naturally enough in the initial stages, there were experts cautioning that Ozempic (brand) might turn out to be the snake oil of the 21st century, and that the drug should not be misused. However, several studies done over a period in the last few years have yielded similarly fantastic results. It is, by now, quite clear that semaglutide’s ability to lead to weight loss is not in the realm of fantasy, but as real as the kilos and inches that users shed, and its repurposing is nearly complete.

A recent study by Philip K. Knop of the Centre for Clinical Metabolic Research, Gentofte Hospital, Denmark, in association with researchers from the United States and Novo Nordisk, the company that developed Ozempic, specifically studied the impact of semaglutide on adults who were overweight or obese, without Type 2 diabetes.

“We assessed the efficacy and safety of the oral glucagon-like peptide-1 analogue, semaglutide 50 mg, taken once per day versus placebo for the treatment of overweight or obesity in adults without type 2 diabetes”. They recorded in The Lancet end June, that ‘oral semaglutide 50 mg once per day led to a superior and clinically meaningful decrease in bodyweight compared with placebo’.

Also read | Re-evaluating what BMI says about your health

In the last quarter of 2022, the results of the STEP 5 trial, studying the effects of semaglutide in overweight, obese adults over two years were published in Nature. Over 75% of the participants on semaglutide had a weight loss of 5% of baseline or more. While nearly 62% of patients achieved 10% or more. Both studies reported patients exhibiting gastrointestinal issues, but most such events were mild to moderate and transient, the paper recorded.

No wonder then that rampant off-label prescription of Ozempic for weight loss led to a shortage of the drug in 2022. Despite its high cost, the lure of an easy way to weight loss is understandably tantalising to many struggling to bring weight down, or keep it that way.

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