The Medical University of South Carolina’s Weight Management Center participated in trials for the drug semaglutide for several years, a medication that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved in June to help with chronic weight management in adults with obesity.
MUSC’s Patrick O’Neil, Ph.D., said the medication has previously been used at a lower dose for the management of Type 2 diabetes. MUSC’s participation in phase 2 and 3 trials took place from 2015 to 2020.
The trials, said Dr. O’Neil, enrolled people with a body mass index greater than 30 – the obese category – and 27 to 30 who had other comorbid conditions associated with obesity. Both genders were included, but most weight loss trials wind up with more females than males.
The participant injected the medication once per week. Dr. O’Neil said the drug mimics a hormone in your body that makes you feel fuller when you eat, but this one makes it last a lot longer.
“The magnitude of weight loss observed with semaglutide is substantially greater than anything seen with currently approved obesity medications. The standard metric for weight loss trials is percentage of baseline weight lost. In the semaglutide trials, the average loss was about 15% to 16% of baseline weight. That is nearly twice as much as the average for other currently approved obesity medications.”
Dr. O’Neil said the new drug can be a game changer in weight loss “in that the amount of weight loss is so much greater than has been seen with earlier medicine.”
“This sets the bar for other medications and other treatments,” he pointed out. “That being said, no obesity medication works for everyone, and no obesity medication works without accompanying changes in diet and exercise. But this medication can be a big help for the people who respond to it. Finally, no obesity medication works unless it is taken, so anyone considering it should realize that they will need to take it long-term if it works for them.”
Dr. O’Neil and the MUSC staff were pleased with the drug’s approval by the FDA.
“We’re very glad to see this positive development in the evolution of obesity treatments. Our MUSC Weight Management Center has been offering weight control services for more than 40 years, and it is rewarding to see obesity finally taken seriously as a disease and to see treatments developed with much-increasing results. We have participated in scores of obesity clinical trials and feel privileged that we could contribute to the trials of this new medication and offer participation to people in the Lowcountry. We also look forward to being able to offer this approved treatment to our patients along with our existing programs.”
The drug, according to Dr. O’Neil, “will not be cheap.” He explained; “The current problem is that most insurances do not cover treatment of obesity including obesity medications. Patients who do happen to have such coverage will be in a good position to try this medication if their provider thinks it is appropriate.”
Dr. O’Neil said the MUSC Weight Management Center offers a variety of weight control programs for people with a little or a lot to lose.
“The programs are delivered by our multidisciplinary staff and focus on helping patients to make lifestyle changes that are so important for long-term success, whether or not medication is part of the approach. In fact, most of our patients do not choose to include medications in their programs.”
Dr. O’Neil said it is important to note that this medication will require a written prescription from a doctor and the approval for the medication states that it should be used in connection with diet and exercise changes. He said in order to see change, patients must make an effort to alter their diet and exercise regimens.