NEW YORK: A drug to treat diabetes can help obese people who don't have the disease lose weight and keep it off, a new study has found.
Researchers found that 63% of study participants given the drug liraglutide for 56 weeks lost at least 5% of their body weight whereas just 27% of the placebo group lost that much.
"It is a very effective drug. It seems to be as good as any of the others on the market, so it adds another possibility for doctors to treat patients who are having trouble either losing weight or maintaining weight loss once they get the weight off," said study first author Dr Xavier Pi-Sunyer, a professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Centre.
Liraglutide, developed by the company Novo Nordisk, mimics a naturally occurring hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1, which is released in the human intestine and reduces hunger, increases satiety and slows the rate at which the stomach empties its contents into the small intestine.
The US Food and Drug Administration approved liraglutide (at a higher dose than is used for diabetes) for treating obesity in December 2014.
In the new study, Pi-Sunyer and colleagues randomly assigned 3,731 men and women with a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30, or a BMI of at least 27 if they also had high cholesterol or high blood pressure, to receive a 3.0-milligram dose of liraglutide daily, or a placebo shot.
Study participants also received counselling on ways to change their lifestyle to promote weight loss. About 2,500 patients in the study were given liraglutide, and about 1,200 were given the placebo injections, LiveScience reported.
After 56 weeks, the participants on liraglutide lost an average of 8.3 kg, compared with 2.9 kg for the people on the placebo. Among the patients on liraglutide, 33% lost at least 10% of their body weight, whereas just 11% of the placebo group lost that much. The most common side effects of the drug were nausea and diarrhoea. Patients on the medication were also at increased risk of gallbladder-related problems, which, the researchers noted, could have been due to their above-average weight loss.
Drawbacks to the medication include its high cost — about $1,000 for a month of treatment — and the fact that it must be given by injection. Also, Pi-Sunyer said, patients will probably have to be on the drug indefinitely to maintain weight loss.
The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.