London: Taking a drug once a week, approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, can lead to a significant and sustained reduction in body weight, according to a study.
The experimental drug, called tirzepatide, developed by US pharma major Eli Lilly, is also being hailed as an alternative to bariatric surgery.
Tirzepatide combines synthetic mimics of two hormones known as GLP-1 and GIP that our guts naturally release after we eat to help us feel full. These naturally occurring hormones also help control blood sugar levels.
In May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved tirzepatide, under the trade name Mounjaro, for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Tirzepatide is not currently available for weight loss, but Eli Lilly is aiming to get an updated timeline from the FDA this year.
The drug, which is currently available in an injectable form, “is a welcome relief,” Dr. Anil Arora, Chair of the Institute of Liver, Gastroenterology, Pancreaticobiliary Science at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, told IANS.
“The combination of the two hormones tells the brain that your stomach is full or that you have enough reserves and don’t need to eat anymore. So that curbs the appetite causing you to burn more calories that are unused in your body, allowing you to lose weight,” he added.
In the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, an international team, including from Yale University, randomly divided 2,539 overweight or obese participants into four equal groups.
One group received a self-administered placebo injection once a week for 72 weeks, while the other three groups received either 5 mg, 10 mg or 15 mg tirzepatide. They were also advised to exercise 150 minutes per week.
At the end of the 72 weeks, participants who received 5 mg of tirzepatide each week lost an average of 16.1 kg, those who received 10 mg lost an average of 22.2 kg, and those who received 15 mg lost an average of 23.6 kg. Those who received a placebo injection lost an average of 2.4 kg.
Those who took the highest of three doses lost a whopping 21 percent of their body weight compared to those who took a placebo.
One disadvantage of people undergoing bariatric surgery is that they tend to put on weight again. But here with the drug, one can adjust the hormones, which pick up the signals from the intracellular tract to tell the brain you’re hungry, Arora said.
Importantly, this “type of therapy does not disrupt the normal structure of the body,” unlike endoscopic surgery or bariatric surgery, which reduce the size of the stomach, he noted.
Weight loss from 15 percent to more than 20 percent also has the potential to change the way doctors treat diabetes.
A previous study of tirzepatide in diabetes showed that half of the participants who went into remission early in the course of their diabetes while taking the drug.
“That’s a potential game-changer in how we think about therapy for people with type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Robert Gabbay, chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association, told USA Today.
However, what’s not known, Gabbay said, is whether remission achieved in this way will reduce the typical complications of diabetes, including cardiovascular disease, nerve and kidney damage and limb amputations.