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Investigational drug may promote weight loss

October 22, 2009 |  3:59 pm

A medication that is under review by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes may also promote weight loss, according to a study published online today in the Lancet. The drug, liraglutide, was approved earlier this year in Europe for the treatment of diabetes. It is marketed under the brand name Victoza.

Obese Liraglutide is an injected drug that stimulates the release of insulin when glucose levels become too high. It also helps curb appetite. In the new study, researchers in Denmark assigned 564 obese individuals to one of four liraglutide doses, a placebo or the weight-loss drug orlistat. All the participants followed a diet of about 500 less calories than they normally consumed. They also increased their physical activity levels.

After 20 weeks, those on liraglutide lost more weight than those on the placebo. Participants on the highest dose of liraglutide lost 15 pounds compared with 6 pounds on the placebo and 9 pounds on orlistat. Three-quarters of the subjects on the two highest doses of liraglutide lost 5% or more of their body weight. The medication also reduced blood pressure and symptoms of pre-diabetes.

Side effects were nausea and vomiting but no serious adverse events were reported. Patients did not seem to mind injecting the drug, the authors noted. However, longer studies are needed on the drug, said in an accompanying editorial by Dr. George A. Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University.

"Whether long-term use of an injectable drug is palatable as a treatment for obesity is yet to be established," he said.

The FDA has also raised questions about whether the medication can cause thyroid tumors, said Dr. Mitchell Roslin, chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

"As a weight loss drug, liraglutide faces many hurdles," Roslin said in a statement. But, "drugs that can control diabetes, without causing weight gain, have huge potential. Furthermore, this group of patients is used to injections of insulin and Byetta. For a primary obesity drug to require injections would require blockbuster data."

- Shari Roan 

Photo credit: Tim Sloan  /  AFP  /  Getty Images.