A weight loss medication which has been hailed as ‘game-changer’ in the fight against obesity has been approved for use in Ireland.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has in recent days announced that the new drug – called Wegovy – has been approved for patient use in all EU countries. It is the most effective obesity treatment to ever be approved by the EMA, according to HospitalProfessionalNews.ie.
In its clinical trial Wegovy was found to affect weight loss of 17 per cent (3-4 stone), in patients who took the drug every week for a year. The weight loss is however only sustained if the drug is continued in the long term.
How does Wegovy work?
Wegovy is injected once a week under the skin, with the dosage increasing every four weeks until it reaches 2.4 milligrams per week.
Wegovy, made by Novo Nordisk, works by sending a signal to the brain to increase feelings of fullness, while also managing blood sugar levels. The recommendations said it should be used alongside changes to diet and exercise habits.
Patients can administer the medicine themselves. They can also change the injection site and the day of the weekly injection. The medicine can only be obtained with a prescription.
What are the benefits of Wegovy?
Studies have shown that Wegovy is effective in helping people lose weight, with a significant proportion of them achieving at least a 5 per cent weight reduction.
Three of the studies involved people who had tried unsuccessfully to lose weight in the past and had a BMI of less than or equal to 30 kg/m2 or a BMI of less than or equal 27 kg/m2 plus a weight related health problem.
In the first of these studies, involving 1,961 people, people treated with Wegovy were able to lose on average 15 per cent of their body weight after 68 weeks compared with a 2 per cent loss of weight in people who had placebo. In addition, 84 per cent of people in the Wegovy group were able to lose 5 per cent of their weight compared with 31 per cent of people in the placebo group.
In the second study, involving 611 people, those treated with Wegovy lost on average 16 per cent of their body weight after 68 weeks compared with a 6 per cent loss of weight in people who had placebo. Around 85 pre cent of people in the Wegovy group lost at least 5 per cent of their weight compared with 48 per cent of people in the placebo group. All participants in this study also received counselling to help them lose weight.
The third study, involving 902 people, looked at how the effects of Wegovy were maintained over the first 20 weeks. In this study, all participants had Wegovy for 20 weeks, after which some were stopped having Wegovy and were given placebo instead. After 48 more weeks, those who continued on Wegovy lost a further 8 per cent of their body weight while those on placebo regained 7 per cent of theirs, indicating that people need to continue taking Wegovy in order not to regain weight.
A fourth study involved 1,210 people with type 2 diabetes with a BMI of less than or equal to 27 kg/m2 and who had also tried unsuccessfully to lose weight in the past. After 68 weeks, those treated with Wegovy were able on average to lose 10 per cent of their weight compared with a 3 per cent loss in people who had placebo. In addition, 67 per cent of people in the Wegovy group were able to lose at least 5 per cent of their weight compared with 30 per cent of people in the placebo group.
What has been said?
“Wegovy is probably the first medication that’s giving a really good response in terms of significant weight loss,” Jean O’Connell, an endocrinologist and committee member of The Association for the Study of Obesity (ASOI), told The Times recently.
O’Connell told the outlet that Wegovy was a “game-changer” in terms of the types of medications that are available to treat obesity and that there was a “huge difference” between Wegovy and other weight loss treatments.
Speaking about semaglutide, the active substance in Wegovy, in an interview with Newstalk Breakfast last year, Dr Donal O’Shea, the HSE’s clinical lead for obesity, said: “This drug… is the first step-change in drug management of obesity.
“There are other drugs in the pipeline that are kind of based on this drug, but with additional functions, that are delivering 25 per cent to 30 per cent weight loss in clinical trials – that’s equivalent to surgery.”
Ireland has one of the highest levels of obesity in Europe, with 60 per cent of adults and over one in five children and young people living with overweight and obesity, according to the HSE.
Obesity is the major contributing factor to type 2 diabetes, which affects 200,000 people in Ireland. Type 2 diabetes is a huge financial burden to the Irish health service where diabetes care consumes up to 10 per cent of the Irish healthcare budget.
In Ireland, in people aged 18 years and over, the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes increased from 2.2 per cent in 1998 to 5.2 per cent in 2015; representing an absolute mean increase of 0.17 per cent per year.
According to data from the HSE, individuals with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease relative to the general population and have a two to five-fold greater risk of dying from these conditions.