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What is Wegovy and who is eligible?

Professor John Deanfield, who led the study, said the findings ‘have important clinical implications’ (Pexels)
Professor John Deanfield, who led the study, said the findings ‘have important clinical implications’ (Pexels)

Anti-obesity jabs could reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes in people even if they fail to lose much weight, according to a study funded by a drug manufacturer.

The five-year study looked at semaglutide – a prescription drug offered by the NHS – that works by suppressing appetite and is sold under the brand names Wegovy and Ozempic.

The trial was run by company Novo Nordisk – it is yet to be peer-reviewed.

They said the weekly shots could also benefit cardiovascular health.

It is the largest and longest study of the drug, and is made up of 17,604 adults over the age of 45 from 41 countries.

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After 20 weeks of taking semaglutide, 62 per cent of patients had lost more than five per cent of their bodyweight, while only 10 per cent of patients in the placebo group had.

However, the risk reduction of heart attacks, stroke or heart failure was similar in patients who had lost more than five per cent of their bodyweight and in those who lost less weight.

Speaking before presenting the study at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Italy, Prof Deanfield said the findings had "important clinical implications".

“Our findings show that the magnitude of this treatment effect with semaglutide is independent of the amount of weight lost, suggesting that the drug has other actions which lower cardiovascular risk beyond reducing unhealthy body fat," he said.

“These alternative mechanisms may include positive impacts on blood sugar, blood pressure or inflammation, as well as direct effects on the heart muscle and blood vessels, or a combination of one or more of these.”

Data from the same Select trial also suggests there are benefits regardless of a person's starting weight and how much weight they lose.

Novo Nordisk is worth around $428bn (£336bn), making it more valuable than the annual output of the entire Danish economy.

Here is a look at the company’s top products: Wegovy and Ozempic.

What is Wegovy?

Wegovy is an injectable medicine used for adults with obesity or a (body mass index) BMI of 27 or more. Patients will be required to inject themselves weekly.

It suppresses appetite by mimicking a hormone named glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that is normally released after eating. This makes people feel full, meaning they eat less and lose weight.

Nick Finer, honorary clinical professor at the National Centre for Cardiovascular Prevention and Outcomes at University College London, said: “The efficacy of semaglutide is a true game-changer for the medical treatment of obesity, a chronic disease that shortens life through its many complications.”

It has been reported that some users have hailed the drug as a miracle given the dramatic weight loss they have enjoyed.

Semaglutide has received various high-profile celebrity endorsements, with figures such as Twitter boss Elon Musk claiming to have used the drug. A Twitter user asked Mr Musk last October how he remained “fit, ripped, and healthy”, to which he replied “fasting” and “Wegovy”.

Who can use Wegovy?

Those with a BMI of 30 or more, or those with a BMI of 27 or more who also have a weight-related medical problem, can use the drug. Patients who are prescribed the medication will have the injections as part of a thorough weight-management programme and an increase in exercise.

Nice said that weight-related conditions that will make obese people eligible will include “type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, high blood pressure, dyslipidaemia (unbalanced or unhealthy cholesterol levels), obstructive sleep apnoea and heart disease”.

A study found that the weight of people who were given the drug fell by 12 per cent on average after 68 weeks.

Novo Nordisk tested its Wegovy weight loss jab as part of a trial over five years (PA Wire)
Novo Nordisk tested its Wegovy weight loss jab as part of a trial over five years (PA Wire)

How does Wegovy work?

Wegovy helps with long-term weight loss by regulating the body’s appetite and the amount of calories people consume.

Wegovy was approved for NHS use following research that indicated users could lose more than 10 per cent of their body weight but experts have warned that “skinny jabs” are no substitute for exercising and maintaining a healthy diet.

Does Wegovy have any side effects?

Nice said side effects should be minimal when the drug is used correctly. Symptoms include mild nausea, diarrhoea and headaches, but they were found to be “mild to moderate in severity and subsided with time”.

Analysis discovered that several patients who took Wegovy and Ozempic suffered severe gastroparesis, better known as stomach paralysis. Two patients who had taken the type 2 diabetes medication Ozempic said their “stomachs are paralysed” in a CNN article from July 25.

Wegovy is one of several weight-loss drugs being investigated for “a possible link to thoughts of suicide and self-harm among users”, the BBC has reported. The European Medicines Agency will investigate Wegovy, Saxenda, Ozempic and other similar drugs after three cases were identified in Iceland.

What is Ozempic?

As with Wegovy, adults with type 2 diabetes use the once-weekly injectable drug Ozempic to help control their blood sugar levels.

Despite Ozempic not being classified as a weight-loss medication, research indicates that those who use it may experience slight weight reduction while doing so.