U.S. approves “breakthrough” weight-loss drug

A weight-loss drug that obesity scientists are talking about as a “game changer” has just been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), marking the first time such a drug has been approved in several years.

Wegovy, a weight management drug to be manufactured by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, is the first FDA-approved weight-loss drug since 2014, but it’s not exactly a new drug.

The same drug, called semaglutide, has been used in the U.S. and other countries as an antidiabetic for years. Recently, however, there has been evidence that semaglutide in a different dosage also acts as a powerful and effective appetite suppressant.

In a study published earlier this year involving nearly 2,000 obese adults from 16 different countries, researchers reported that long-term treatment with semaglutide resulted in an average weight loss of 15 percent across the group.

Some lost even more, with more than 30 percent of the group losing more than 20 percent of their body weight — results the scientists called remarkable.

“No other drug has come close to this level of weight loss – it’s really a game-changer,” obesity researcher Rachel Butterham of University College London said at the time.

“For the first time, people can achieve with medication what was only possible with weight-loss surgery.”

Now the FDA has taken notice. The agency announced Friday that the drug Wegovy (semaglutide) has been approved for chronic weight control in obese or overweight adults who have at least one weight-related condition (such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol).

The therapy, which Novo Nordisk plans to begin selling in the U.S. later this month, is given as injections once a week, delivering a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that makes patients feel full, helping them eat less afterward.

Considering that nearly three-quarters (73.6%) of U.S. adults aged 20 and older are overweight or obese, it is hoped that the new drug will help many thousands of Americans with weight-related illnesses regulate their food intake.

For those whose health allows them to take the drug, it is worth noting that many study participants reported mild to moderate effects, including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation and abdominal pain.

These discomfort were enough to cause some participants to discontinue treatment, but for many who did not feel the side effects – potentially life-transforming weight loss was achieved.

“This is the first time we’ve seen such weight loss with a medication,” says obesity expert Robert Kushner of Northwestern University, who led the study.

“This approval gives people with obesity a once-a-week non-surgical treatment with results that have never before been demonstrated with obesity drugs.”

Although Wegovy promises to help a huge number of Americans gain control of their weight, an unfortunate obstacle for many will be the cost of the drug.

Although Novo Nordisk has not yet confirmed the price of the drug, there are indications that the treatment could cost about $1,300 per month.

Which, unfortunately, means that for many Americans, at least in the near future, this potentially life-changing drug will not be available – and they will have to keep trying to change their lives on their own.

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