Weight-loss drug studies widen to strokes and knee joints

Denmark’s Novo Nordisk’s blockbuster diabetes drug Ozempic and weight-loss therapy Wegovy are being studied to see whether they can improve health in other ways.

Both treatments contain the active ingredient semaglutide, part of a class known as GLP-1 drugs that work by helping to control blood sugar levels and triggering a feeling of fullness.

Researchers have also found the treatments can protect against heart and kidney disease, and are testing them for conditions such as Parkinson’s and alcohol addiction.

Yet, Novo Nordisk cannot make enough Wegovy to meet demand, and only sells it in a few of the world’s wealthiest countries. Many people have turned instead to Novo’s diabetes medicine Ozempic, which contains the same active ingredient, to shed pounds. That has created shortages of Ozempic. 

Other conditions

Here are other conditions that GLP-1 treatments are being tested against:

Eli Lilly’s tirzepatide, a GLP-1 therapy sold as Mounjaro for diabetes and Zepbound for weight loss, is being evaluated in a mid-stage study of chronic kidney disease in patients with obesity. Lilly plans to enroll up to 140 participants. 

Lilly is also testing tirzepatide for patients with heart failure and obesity. It expects to enroll about 700 people in the study, which is expected to be completed by July.

Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong are testing Novo’s semaglutide along with mechanical removal of clots in patients with strokes caused by the blockage of large blood vessels to the brain compared with standard therapy. The mid-stage study aims to recruit about 140 patients.

Researchers at the Danish Headache Centre in Denmark are testing semaglutide as a treatment for new-onset idiopathic intracranial hypertension, a condition associated with obesity where pressure inside the head rises, along with a very low-calorie diet. The study aims to recruit about 50 patients and wrap up as early as 2025.

Novo has begun a trial testing semaglutide in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease. The study, which will enroll 1,840 patients, could reach primary completion as early as 2025.

Novo is also testing semaglutide in a late-stage trial of patients with a type of fatty liver disease called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or Nash. The study is expected to enroll about 1,200 patients and close as early as 2028. Lilly’s tirzepatide is also being evaluated in a mid-stage study in nearly 200 Nash patients.

Researchers at University Hospital in Toulouse tested Sanofi’s GLP-1 drug lixisenatide, branded as Adlyxin, for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, in addition to usual anti-Parkinson’s drugs in a mid-stage study of about 156 patients with early Parkinson’s disease. Preliminary results showed the therapy might slow progression of motor symptoms, with more data expected in early 2024.

Lilly’s tirzepatide is in late-stage testing for treatment of patients with obstructive sleep apnea and obesity, including people who use respiratory devices that help keep their airways open while they sleep as well as people who will not use such devices. The study is expected to enroll about 469 participants. 

In a pilot study sponsored by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, researchers found that Novo’s GLP-1 drug Victoza, or liraglutide, helped to reduce the severity of sleep apnea in 12 out of 18 adult patients without diabetes.

Researchers at the Women’s Hospital in Los Angeles found that liraglutide, the active ingredient in Novo’s drugs Victoza and Saxenda, helped to reduce elevated testosterone levels significantly in obese women with polycystic ovary syndrome, the most common hormonal disorder in females of reproductive age. The late-stage study enrolled 88 participants.

An experimental Lilly GLP-1, retatrutide, is being studied in patients who are overweight and have osteoarthritis of the knee, a degenerative joint disease. The study is currently enrolling up to 405 patients.

A study by the University of Copenhagen’s Psychiatric Centre Rigshospitalet is investigating whether treatment with semaglutide helps to reduce alcohol intake in 108 patients diagnosed with alcohol use disorder and obesity. 

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