The active ingredient in Wegovy and Ozempic reduced the risk of heart attacks and strokes in a large trial of people with cardiovascular disease who were considered overweight or had obesity.
Semaglutide is already known to treat diabetes, aid rapid weight loss, and possibly even curb drug and alcohol addictions.
Now a new trial by the drug’s manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, has shown that it can collectively lower the risk of heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease by 20 per cent.
Semaglutide is one of a class of drugs known as GLP-1 receptor agonists, which regulate appetite hormones by lowering blood sugar and slowing the stomach’s rate of emptying.
This causes people to feel full longer, so they avoid eating and lose weight. In the closely watched trial, known as Semaglutide Effects on Cardiovascular Outcomes in People with Overweight or Obesity (SELECT), more than 17,000 people who were considered overweight or had obesity and who had cardiovascular disease but not diabetes took either semaglutide or a placebo for an average of nearly three years.
People who took the drug lost a significant amount of weight, thus reducing their risk of cardiac complications, but experts say that the amount of improvement suggests the drug’s heart effects likely occurred through mechanisms besides weight loss alone.
Novo Nordisk published the results on November 11 in the New England Journal of Medicine and announced them in a presentation at the American Heart Association meeting in Philadelphia on the same day.
James Januzzi, Massachusetts General Hospital cardiologist and author of the study, said: “I think we expected to see an effect but maybe not necessarily quite such a profound effect. It’s an impressive result for a few reasons.
“Although we recognized that these GLP-1 receptor agonists reduce risk for major cardiovascular events in people with diabetes, understanding their value in individuals who have obesity without diabetes required more data. And the study really delivers that very clearly.
“This is the first of several trials that will really revolutionize how we manage people with obesity and cardiovascular disease.”
He added: “There are studies looking at variations of drugs similar to semaglutide that target multiple appetite hormones. And then there are drugs that are completely unrelated to GLP-1 that are being explored.
“There’s a huge enthusiasm now to explore different ways to pharmacologically lose weight safely, with a parallel goal of reducing cardiovascular risk.”