Weight loss jabs like Ozempic cuts risk of heart attack and stroke by fifth, ‘game-changing’ study finds

Risk of serious conditions reduced regardless of amount of weight lost, say researchers who compare breakthrough to discovery of statins

Tara Cobham
Tuesday 14 May 2024 10:03 BST
Are Ozempic-like drugs a promising solution for addiction treatment?

Weight loss jabs like Ozempic can cut the risk of heart attacks or strokes by a fifth, a “game-changing” new study has found.

The anti-obesity injections could reduce the risk in obese people regardless of the amount of weight they lose while on the drug, researchers said, suggesting the treatment could have effects beyond reducing unhealthy body fat.

Lead researcher Professor John Deanfield, of University College London (UCL), hailed the drugs as having a “potentially very important place in treatment”, with “wide-scale opportunity”, and compared the breakthrough to the discovery of statins.

The team used data from the Select trial, which was conducted by semaglutide manufacturer Novo Nordisk, to explore if the drug – sold under the brand names Wegovy, Ozempic and Rybelsus – could reduce the risk of heart attacks or stroke in obese people without diabetes. The five-year study comprised 17,604 adults over the age of 45 from 41 countries and examined the amount of time before patients suffered major cardiovascular events.

After 20 weeks of being on semaglutide, 62 per cent of patients had lost more than 5 per cent of their bodyweight compared with 10 per cent in the placebo group – with the risk reduction of heart attacks, stroke or heart failure similar in patients regardless of whether they lost weight or not.

In August, researchers found semaglutide reduced the risk of a heart attack or stroke in obese people with cardiovascular disease by a fifth. A 2.4mg once-weekly dose of Wegovy, alongside standard care for the prevention of heart attacks or stroke, lowered the risk by 20 per cent compared with those given a placebo.

Wegovy is one of the brand names that semaglutide is sold under
Wegovy is one of the brand names that semaglutide is sold under (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Speaking at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Venice, where he presented the findings, the Telegraph reported Prof Deanfield said: “This fantastic trial really is a game-changer.”

He continued: “In the 1990s when statins came in, we finally figured out that there was a class of drugs that would change the biology of this disease. That was a major breakthrough to transform cardiology practice. We now have a class of drugs that could equally transform many chronic diseases of ageing.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday, that “these drugs have a potentially very important place in treatment,” adding: “There is a wide-scale opportunity – but of course, these drugs have to be evaluated in the usual way.”

Prof Deanfield said: “Around half of the patients that I see in my cardiovascular practice have levels of weight equivalent to those in the Select trial and are likely to derive benefit from taking semaglutide on top of their usual level of guideline-directed care.

“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.

“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.”

A second piece of research based on the Select trial that was presented at the ECO, led by Professor Donna Ryan, of Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in New Orleans, looked at the long-term effect of semaglutide on weight.

She said weight loss using semaglutide “can be sustained for up to four years” in adults who are overweight or obese, without diabetes.

Patients on semaglutide lost an average 10.2 per cent of their body weight and 7.7cm from their waistline compared with 1.5 per cent and 1.3cm respectively in the group given a placebo. After two years, some 52 per cent of people treated with semaglutide had moved down to a lower BMI category compared with 16 per cent in the placebo group.

Prof Ryan added: “This degree of weight loss in such a large and diverse population suggests that it may be possible to impact the public health burden of multiple obesity-related illnesses.

“While our trial focused on cardiovascular events, many other chronic diseases including several types of cancer, osteoarthritis, and anxiety and depression would benefit from effective weight management.”

Prof Ryan’s findings have also been published in Nature Medicine.

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