Popular obesity drug cuts the risk of heart attacks and strokes

Popular obesity drug cuts the risk of heart attacks and strokes

Ozempic - antidiabetic drug containing semaglutide as active substance.

  • Semaglutide (Ozempic), originally developed as a diabetes drug, has become one of the most popular weight loss medication in Western societies.
  • Normalization of glucose levels and sharp reduction in body weight caused by semaglutide has just been found to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular events, even in people without diabetes.

The results of SELECT trial, evaluating if semaglutide lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease in non-diabetic patients, have just been published, bringing positive message to the millions of people who use it as an effective weight loss aid. As expected based on its ability to sharply reduce the body weight and normalize the glucose levels, semaglutide lowered the risk of heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular deaths by as much as 20%. A total of 569 patients out of 8803 (6.5%) receiving semaglutide experienced this outcome as compared to 701 patients out of 8801 (8.0%) receiving placebo (between-group difference of 1.5%). However, the benefits of this drug reached even further. Patients on semaglutide had a decreased risk of heart failure, coronary revascularization, kidney failure and even, all-cause mortality. To put it shortly, long-term therapy with semaglutide extended patients’ lives and lowered their risk of ending up in a hospital for cardiovascular reasons; all this in addition to losing almost 10% of the initial body weight.

The principal results of semaglutide study (SELECT).
Figure 1 The principal results of SELECT trial evaluating cardiovascular protection conferred by semaglutide

Semaglutide, sold under the name Ozempic, Vegovy or Rybelsus, belongs to the pharmacological class of GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) analogues, which work by mimicking the natural hormones called incretins, responsible for initiating insulin production after meal as well as reducing appetite and slowing the food digestion. These activities result in a steep decline of glucose levels in blood and rapid weight loss, which are probably the chief factors behind the cardiovascular risk reduction observed in the SELECT trial. Before publishing the trial results, cardioprotective action of this drug was only confirmed in people with diabetes; now the list of indications can be expanded to cover the non-diabetic population.

The miraculous benefits in terms of weight management and cardiovascular health turned semaglutide into best-selling drug, massively prescribed by physicians as a cure for most prevalent civilizational diseases. Its growing sales turned out to exceed manufacturing capacity of the manufacturer, causing extreme shortages in many countries around the world.

The skyrocketing popularity of Ozempic boosted the manufacturing company, Novo Nordisk, into new heights. In September this year, Novo Nordisk briefly took over the position of the most valuable company in Europe. The newly published clinical data are likely to fuel the rise in Ozempic prescriptions, cementing the Novo Nordisk leadership in the European pharmaceutical industry.

The only obstacle for semaglutide becoming one of the most widely used biologic drug is of course its price. Patients currently pay around $1,300 per month of treatment, which can be a huge barrier considering the need for life-time administration. Biosimilars could help to solve this problem, but unfortunately for the patients, patents are not expected to expire any soon.

References

  1. Lincoff, A. Michael, et al. “Semaglutide and cardiovascular outcomes in obesity without diabetes.” New England Journal of Medicine (2023).
  2. Medical News Today. “Can semaglutide injections like Ozempic help prevent heart attacks and stroke?” (November 16, 2023). Link: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/semaglutide-injections-ozempic-wegovy-help-prevent-heart-attacks-stroke
  3. CNBC “How Ozempic and Wegovy turned Novo Nordisk into a $400 billion company?” (October 11, 2023). Link: https://www.cnbc.com/2023/10/10/ozempic-wegovy-novo-nordisk.html