A revamped version of a popular diabetes drug that’s given at a higher dose to fight obesity is the first prescription medication for weight loss approved by the Food and Drug Administration in seven years.
Wegovy is a synthetic version of a gut hormone that curbs hunger. Patients inject the medication under their skin once a week.
Dr. Domenica Rubino, director of the Washington Center for Weight Management and Research in Arlington, Virginia, took part in a study, enrolling and monitoring two dozen patients.
“It's mimicking a hormone we have but in a greater amount, so it actually tells the brain we're not as hungry,” Rubino said.
The drug is intended for adults with obesity or a body mass index of 27 or higher who also have at least one weight-related medical condition such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Like other weight-loss drugs, it’s to be used with diet and exercise.
More than half of the participants in the trial lost 15-20% of their weight.
“I've been involved in this field for about 20-plus years, and it was the first time that we saw such significant weight loss in some people,” Rubino said. “And the reason it actually matters is there are a lot of medical conditions that are associated with obesity that we need more weight loss … When we start looking at fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, PCOS, osteoarthritis, we need more like 15 percent, and so that's what everybody is excited about, is that we're able to help more people this way.”
Marleen Greenleaf, 58, of Fort Washington, Maryland, said she struggled to lose weight and keep it off for years.
“I have done Weight Watchers, I've done Jenny Craig, the soup cleanse, the smoothie cleanse, the various differentiations of keto diet and nothing really worked,” she said.
She participated in the Wegovy clinical trial and lost 43 pounds over a year.
“It was slow, but it was progressive,” she said. “So every time I go in and I would get weighed, some weeks I would not lose any weight, but I never gained any weight back, which for me was pivotal.”
There was an added benefit to her weight loss.
“It was life-changing, not just for me, but also for my husband, because by me being able to lose this weight, I was able to be a living kidney donor for him,” she said.
Two years after the clinical trial, the married mother of two has been off the medication and says she’s been able to keep most of the weight off.
“I'm not showing any signs of diabetes anymore,” she said. “I am more active. I can get out and do things that I never considered doing.”
Greenleaf said she plans to take Wegovy as soon as it hits the market.
The most common side effects of Wegovy were gastrointestinal issues like nausea, diarrhea and vomiting and they usually went away on their own.