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Imperial College London Diabetes Centre’s UAE study on weight-loss application of diabetes drug supports international clinical trial findings

16 Nov 2021
Abu Dhabi

Experts from Mubadala Health’s Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICDLC) have announced the first real-world study results available for the Middle East regarding the weight-loss applications of semaglutide. The drug was originally approved for type 2 diabetes, but is also used to treat obesity, which is now recognized as a chronic, progressive disease by the World Health Organization.

Presented last week at the Society for Endocrinology’s BES conference in the UK and published in Endocrine Abstracts journal, the retrospective study of 289 patients taking the semaglutide weekly injection for six months saw a median reduction of 3 per cent in body mass index, which is consistent with existing clinical trial data from other countries.

Principal investigator for the study, ICLDC consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist Dr Matthew Allum, says that the results bode well for patients with obesity in the UAE and region. “While this might seem modest weight loss on the surface, we must remember that the drug was administered to these patients at a lower dose to treat their diabetes. We can then extrapolate from these results and expect that a higher dose will also match the outcomes from clinical studies of patients living with obesity. However, it will be necessary to conduct more research with broader scope and larger groups of diabetes patients with obesity to confirm the initial results of the study.”

In an international 68-week clinical trial that concluded last year, participants lost on average 15 per cent of their total body weight when using the drug at the higher dose. In June this year, the US Food and Drug Association approved semaglutide as a weight-management drug in adults with certain comorbidities when used in conjunction with a reduced calorie diet and increased physical activity.

Commenting on the importance of the ICLDC study, Dr Allum says: “We were keen to add to existing data on the potential efficacy of the drug in treating obesity, and to especially test it among our UAE population, with its own specific lifestyle factors and high prevalence of obesity. Clinical trials have been very encouraging, but published real-world data have been scarce and there were none from the Middle East. Real-world data are important as patients in clinical studies are highly motivated and monitored, so we need to back these findings up with studies of patients in their natural environments.”

Explaining how the drug enables weight loss, Dr Allum said: “Semaglutide is an analogue of GLP1 – a type of hormone our body makes naturally and secretes after a meal. GLP1 stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas, which is how it helps people with type 2 diabetes reduce their blood sugar levels. However, it also sends a signal to your brain to say the stomach is full, and slows down the emptying of your stomach. So, in basic terms, it reduces your appetite and helps you eat less, leading to weight loss.”

He adds that the drug could be a game-changer globally in that its results in clinical trials are more than twice as good as preceding obesity medications, including other GLP1 analogues, and importantly, it is generally well tolerated with few side effects. The drug can be used safely to treat people without diabetes as it has been shown not to significantly reduce blood sugar levels in these patients, he says.

The ICLDC team also noted significant improvements in the study participants’ LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Dr Allum says that improvement in blood sugar levels among the group was modest, but this can be partially explained by the fact that some of the ICLDC patients already had their diabetes under control.

An interesting finding was that women in the study population lost more weight than men, but the reasons for this would need further research to be verified and understood, says Dr Allum.

The ICLDC research team also included Dr Allum’s ICLDC colleagues, Drs Adam Buckley, Nader Lessan, Nagi Mohammed, Mohamed Suliman, Sara Suliman and Mohgah Elsheikh. The team retrospectively gathered data on 289 patients with a median age of 50 years, with 36% female, 87% Emirati and 8% of other Arab ethnicity, all of whom took continuous once weekly semaglutide injections for six months.

Semaglutide was made available in the UAE in 2020 as a weekly injection that helps patients with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar.

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