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Weight loss drug could ward off diabetes in at-risk patients

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A weight loss drug that works by suppressing appetite can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 80% in patients deemed at-risk of developing the condition, suggest latest study results.

In a trial, involving UK researchers, the drug was tested on overweight people with “pre-diabetes”, also known as “borderline diabetes”, which is characterised by slightly increased blood sugar levels.

“This could improve the health of the population and save millions on healthcare spending”

Carol le Roux

It found the drug, liraglutide (Victoza), could help to prevent progression into diabetes when combined with diet and exercise, and could even “cure” pre-diabetes altogether.

The new study, published in The Lancet and funded by Novo Nordisk, involved 2,254 obese adults with pre-diabetes at 191 research sites in 27 countries.

Researchers compared whether adding daily self-administered 3mg injections of liraglutide to diet and exercise helped to prevent progression into diabetes, compared to diet and exercise alone.

After three years, they found patients given liraglutide were 80% less likely to develop diabetes than those given a placebo. In 60% of those patients, pre-diabetes was reversed and patients returned to healthy blood glucose levels.

Of the patients who did ultimately develop diabetes, those who were given liraglutide took nearly three times longer to develop the disease than those in the placebo group, said the researchers.

“It’s encouraging the drug reduced the risk of type 2”

Emily Burns

In addition, liraglutide was linked to greater sustained weight loss after three years compared to placebo, with those on the drug losing 7% of body weight versus 2% in the placebo group.

Serious adverse events were reported by 15% randomised to the liraglutide group and 13% in the placebo group.

Study co-author Professor Carel le Roux, from Imperial College London, said: “These groundbreaking results could pave the way for a widely used, effective, and safe drug to reverse pre-diabetes and prevent diabetes in 80% of at-risk people.

“This could improve the health of the population and save millions on healthcare spending,” he said.

Professor le Roux said the drug appeared to work by mimicking the action of GLP-1, a naturally-produced hormone that suppresses appetite.

He said: “Liraglutide promotes weight loss by activating brain areas that control appetite and eating, so that people feel fuller sooner after meals and their food intake is reduced.

Imperial College London

Weight loss drug could ward off diabetes in at-risk patients

Carel le Roux

“Although liraglutide’s role in weight loss is well known, this is the first time it has been shown to essentially reverse prediabetes and prevent diabetes, albeit with the help of diet and exercise,” he added.

Pre-diabetes, which is reversible with exercise and a healthier diet, affects one in 10 people in the UK, and progresses into diabetes in 5-10% of patients within a decade, noted researchers.

Dr Emily Burns, research communications manager at Diabetes UK, said: “Liraglutide is a medication already used to help manage type 2 diabetes, so using it for prevention is an interesting prospect.

“It’s encouraging the drug reduced the risk of type 2, when used alongside exercise and fewer calories,” she said.

“However, around half the people involved didn’t finish the study, so certain assumptions had to be made meaning the results need to be interpreted carefully,” noted Dr Burns.

She added: “We also don’t yet know exactly how the drug reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, but we do know that people can reduce their risk with exercise and a healthy balanced diet.”

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