Weight loss injections can lower the risk of a heart attack or stroke in obese people with cardiovascular disease by a fifth, a new study has suggested.
More than 17,600 adults over the age of 45 in 41 countries took part in the five-year study of semaglutide, which is sold as Wegovy.
Each patient in the trial, carried out by pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, had a body mass index (BMI) of 27 or over and established cardiovascular disease, with no history of diabetes.
The risk of heart attack or stroke in patients given a 2.4mg weekly dose of Wegovy, alongside standard care for the prevention of heart attacks or stroke, was cut by 20% compared with those given a placebo drug, researchers found.
Professor Stephen O’Rahilly, director of the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit at the Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge, said the “long-awaited” results “do not disappoint”.
“Simply put, a drug which acts to reduce body weight by targeting appetite, if taken long term by people who are overweight or obese, significantly reduces their risk of serious cardiovascular events, such as heart attack,” he said.
“The obvious conclusion of these findings is that we should view obesity as a medical condition, like high blood pressure, where effective and safe drug therapy can contribute to reducing serious adverse health outcomes.”
Novo Nordisk said it expects to file for regulatory approvals of a label indication expansion for Wegovy in the US and the EU this year.
‘Potential to change how obesity is treated’
Martin Holst Lange, the company’s executive vice president for development, said there was excitement about the “landmark trial”.
“People living with obesity have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but to date there are no approved weight management medications proven to deliver effective weight management while also reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular death.
“Therefore, we are very excited about the results from the trial showing that semaglutide 2.4mg reduces the risk of cardiovascular events.”
He added the trial “has the potential to change how obesity is regarded and treated”.
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It comes as health experts suggested patients using weight loss injections should be prepared to take them for life.
Earlier this year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended the use of Wegovy for adults with a BMI of at least 35 and one weight-related health condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
The regulator said it should not be taken for more than two years, but studies show that people who stop weight loss injections can regain much of the weight they have lost.
A team of obesity experts argued NICE guidance is largely based on the cost of the drugs and that people who take them should be prepared to take them long-term for treating their disease.