Weight loss drug hailed as 'gamechanger', as effective as surgery

The average weight loss in the trial was 15.3kg. Photo credit: Getty

A new weight-loss drug being trialled in the UK has been hailed as a "gamechanger" and a "major breakthrough".

Semaglutide, discovered in 2012, is currently prescribed as an anti-diabetes medication. But it also appears to be an effective appetite suppressant, according to new research published in the New England Journal for Medicine

"The findings of this study represent a major breakthrough for improving the health of people with obesity," said study author Rahcel Batterham of University College London. 

Three-quarters of participants lost at least 10 percent of their body weight during the trial, and more than a third lost more than 20 percent. 

"No other drug has come close to producing this level of weight loss - this really is a gamechanger," said Prof Batterham. "For the first time, people can achieve through drugs what was only possible through weight-loss surgery."

The average weight loss in the trial was 15.3kg, reducing participants' risk of heart disease and diabetes. They also reported improved blood pressure, fats and sugar levels, and improved overall quality of life. 

In the placebo group, participants lost an average of just 2.6kg. The body-mass index of those who received semaglutide dropped on average by 5.5, but only 0.9 in the control group. 

"This is a significant advance in the treatment of obesity," said chief investigator John Wilding of the University of Liverpool. "Semaglutide is already approved and used clinically at a lower dose for treatment of diabetes, so as doctors we are already familiar with its use."

More than 240,000 Kiwis have been diagnosed with diabetes, mostly type 2.  Another 100,000 are thought to have it without realising. Semaglutide isn't currently on Pharmac's funded list of medicines, but the buyer has in the past year sought applications from manufacturers of GLP-1 agonists, including semaglutide.