November 30, 2022

Obesity drug halves risk of type 2 diabetes in clinical trial

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Weight reduction with a pill is something many people around the world would want. A new drug recently-approved against type 2 diabetes could make it a reality.

A drug that has been recently approved for use against type 2 diabetes could also provide an option for those looking to lose weight quickly and conveniently. Called tirzepatide, this drug has shown promise in reducing weight during its clinical trial. Despite the encouraging results, it is not yet approved for human use for the purpose of weight loss, and it is possible that the Food and Drug Administration will request the manufacturer to run tirzepatide through other human studies and decentralized clinical trials before it does so.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that arises when our bodies have difficulty controlling the level of sugars in our blood. It can be quite draining on the life quality of patients, affecting the circulatory, nervous, and immune systems. As some 440 million people worldwide are estimated to suffer from type 2 diabetes, there is understandably quite a lot of interest in finding a simple and reliable way of treating it or at least managing its symptoms.

Obesity Drug Halves Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes In Clinical Trial
Photo by Matt C on Unsplash

Surprisingly effective

Tirzepatide has shown itself to be very effective at inducing weight loss in patients with and without diabetes. During clinical trials assessing its effect on type 2 diabetes, researchers observed that participants readily lost weight while taking the drug. The new study focused on this effect but worked with people who had obesity without diabetes — and it found that the drug is even more effective in this situation.

The trial, SURMOUNT-1, worked with over 2,500 volunteers who either met the medical definition of obesity (a body mass index of 30 or more) or at least one weight-related health problem. The average participant-BMI was 38. Nearly all participants saw a measurable improvement in blood sugar levels.

According to the team, the participants taking the highest of three experimental doses of tirzepatide lost as much as 21% of their body weight, equivalent to 50-60 pounds (22.6-27.2 kg) for the weightiest participants (with an average of 52 pounds). This is an unprecedented outcome, better than that of all weight-loss options today, bar surgery. For comparison, one obesity treatment approved last year, semaglutide, is documented to produce weight loss of up to around 15% of total body mass. Around 90% of participants also lost some weight during the trial.

Tirzepatide did not lead to any serious side effects for any of the trial participants. About 5% of participants developed gastrointestinal side effects, which led to them dropping out of the study. A total of 15% of the experimental participants dropped out of the study for one reason or another (including those with gastrointestinal side effects). Meanwhile, 26% of the volunteers in the control group (which received placebos) dropped out of the study — likely frustrated by the fact that they were not losing any weight.

Obesity Drug Halves Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes In Clinical Trial
Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash.

Tirzepatide was approved for human use in the USA by the Food and Drug Administration on May 13, under the name Mounjaro, for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. That being said, it is not yet available for weight loss, but the team hopes that their current results could convince the agency to do so.

Apart from the aesthetic benefits, weight loss can help dramatically improve health outcomes for regular people — but it can also help directly treat diabetes. A previous study of tirzepatide with diabetes patients found that half of the participants whose condition was still in its early stages went into remission while taking the drug. That being said, we don’t yet know whether remission produced by the drug will remove the usual complications associated with diabetes, but it is a question worth investigating.

Should it be approved for use in this role, the team points out that tirzepatide won’t be a silver bullet. Users will need to maintain a long-term regime of the drug, and currently, the doses of Manjaro that would produce the best weight-loss effects retail for around $1,000 a month — a spicy price tag for most of us. Another likely issue will be the supply. Semaglutide, which was put to market last year at a considerably higher cost of $1,600 a month for the 2.4 mg weight loss dose and is not covered by insurance, is, nevertheless, in short supply even today.

The paper “Tirzepatide Once Weekly for the Treatment of Obesity” has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.