Diabetes drug 'trumps fat pill'
A diabetes injection appears more effective at promoting weight loss than one of the leading obesity drugs, trials suggest.
Patients receiving liraglutide, which contains a satiety hormone, were twice as likely to lose significant amounts of weight as those on orlistat.
Not only does the drug appear to curb hunger, it also reduces risk factors for diabetes, the Lancet study found.
The study author is a paid consultant of the company which produces the drug.
There are limitations: the drug must be injected every day as it would otherwise be broken down in the gut, and it is expensive - £500 for six months of treatment.
Further studies are needed to establish the longer term risk-benefit ratio as this trial on 564 patients ran for just 20 weeks.
Over this period, three groups of patients in 19 hospitals were put on a diet reduced by 500 calories a day and asked to exercise.
One set received a placebo, the second orlistat - available by prescription as Xenical - and a third liraglutide, also known as Victoza.
Over the 20 weeks, more than three quarters of those on 3mg of liraglutide lost more than 5% weight, compared with 44% with 120mg of orlistat and 30% with a placebo.
This on average translated as more than a stone in weight.
Professor Arne Astrup, head of the department of Human Nutrition at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, who led the study, said: "The reason why we think this drug is so intriguing is that it mimics a gut hormone called GLP-1 which is released in the small intestine after eating.
"It tells the body to produce more insulin and the brain to stop eating. It is a naturally occurring satiety hormone. The problem is that it is eliminated from the blood stream within minutes. The company [Novo Nordisk] has added a molecule to make it more resistant to elimination, so it lasts for a full day."
Professor Astrup has received funding from Novo Nordisk, but is regarded as an authoritative voice on obesity.
In an accompanying editorial in the Lancet, Dr George Bray of the division of clinical obesity at Louisiana State University, said he was optimistic the promise of the new generation of anti-obesity drugs "will be fulfilled".
But he warned: "Whether long-term use of an injectable drug is palatable as a treatment for obesity is yet to be established."
The search is on for the most effective ways to treat obesity and its accompanying health risks: in the UK alone it is estimated that more than half of men and women will end up obese if current trends continue.
This study involved volunteers aged 18-65 from across Europe, with a body mass index of between 30 and 40 - a calculation reached by by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared.
A spokesperson fro GlaxoSmithKline, which produces orlistat, said the comparison was unfair as the drugs were administered in different dosages and in different ways. Source: BBC