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‘Game changer’ weight-loss jab to be prescribed on the NHS to the morbidly obese

Thousands of obese Britons will be offered weight-loss injections on the NHS, health chiefs announced today. 

The once-a-week jab Wegovy — shown to work as well as gastric band surgery — has been given the green light by the watchdog NICE. 

Trials of the appetite suppressant found those given the treatment lost an average of nearly two-and-a-half stone (35lbs) in little over a year, while those given a placebo lost 6lbs.

University of Liverpool researchers who led the study described the drug as a ‘game changer’, yielding results similar to that of weight loss surgery.

Wegovy works by hijacking the body’s own appetite regulating system in the brain, leading to reduced hunger cravings and calorie intake. 

NICE has recommended the drug for people in England and Wales who have a BMI of 35 — making them morbidly obese, the fattest possible category — and have at least one weight-related comorbidity. 

Those with a BMI between 30 and 35 could be recommended the drug, which costs £73 a month at a lower dose for diabetics, if they have been referred for specialist help.

Wegovy, a branded version of semaglutide, will be prescribed alongside a reduced-calorie diet and physical exercise programme. 

Wegovy, made by the Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk (above) contains semaglutide, a synthesised version of a gut hormone that curbs appetite

A trial of 1,961 participants across 16 countries, who weighed 16 stone 7lbs (105kg) and had a BMI of 38 on average, found participants lost 2 stone 6lbs (15.3kg) over 68 weeks, while the placebo group lost just 6lbs (2.6kg)

A trial of 1,961 participants across 16 countries, who weighed 16 stone 7lbs (105kg) and had a BMI of 38 on average, found participants lost 2 stone 6lbs (15.3kg) over 68 weeks, while the placebo group lost just 6lbs (2.6kg)

WHAT IS WEGOVY? 

Wegovy is the brand name for a drug called semaglutide. 

A 1mg dose of semaglutide is already approved in the UK as a treatment for people with type 2 diabetes.

But studies have found a 2.4mg of the drug works effectively as a weight loss drug.

It works by triggering the body to produce a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 that is released naturally from the intestines after meals.

The hormone helps control blood sugar and makes people feel full so they know when to stop eating.

Results from a study of 2,000 people over 15 months show participants lost 15 per cent of their body weight on average, equating to 15.3kg.

The group received individual counselling sessions from registered dietitians to help them stick to a reduced-calorie diet and exercise plan, alongside the weekly injections. 

Volunteers reported improvement in their quality of life and a reduction in risk factors for developing heart disease and diabetes, such as reduced waist circumference, blood fats, blood sugar and blood pressure. 

But the drug triggered side effects include mild or moderate nausea and diarrhoea, but researchers said these were short-lasting and resolved themselves. 

Wegovy, made by pharmaceutical giant NovoNordisk, is already approved in the UK for type 2 diabetics.

The price NHS England is paying for the drug is confidential, but it costs £73.25 per patient per month for a 1mg dose for diabetes. It would be given as a 2.4mg dose as an obesity treatment. 

A consultation on the recommendations made by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is now open until March 1.

Medics will be asked to comment on the cost effectiveness of the medication, and the evidence of its fat-fighting effects. 

NHS England can’t make plans to rollout the drug until NICE’s final guidance is released.

Trials of the drug, which has already received the greenlight in the US, found it was nearly twice as effective as other weight-loss drugs.

Overweight and obese volunteers losing 2 stone 6lbs (15.3kg), on average, over the course of a 15-month study, equating to 15 per cent of their body weight, on average.  

Around 12.4million adults in the UK are obese, making the country one of heaviest the world.

The obesity epidemic costs the NHS £6.1billion and wider society £27billion every year, according to Government estimates.  

Orlistat and liragultide are the only two anti-obesity drugs available on the NHS, while bariatric surgery is available to severly obese people who have a serious condition that could be improved with weight loss.

Doctors are already familiar with prescribing semaglutide in a lower dose, with type 2 diabetes sufferers injecting themselves with 1mg of the drug per week. 

As an obesity treatment, the drug is self-injected once a week through a pen containing 2.4mg.

It triggers the body to produce a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 that is released naturally from the intestines after meals.

The hormone helps control blood sugar and makes people feel full so they know when to stop eating. 

A trial of 1,961 participants across 16 countries, who weighed 16 stone 7lbs (105kg) and had a BMI of 38 on average, found participants lost 2 stone 6lbs (15.3kg) over 68 weeks.

US experts said the results are close to the effect of a gastric band, which cuts patients’ body weight by around 25 per cent. 

The group also received individual counselling sessions from registered dietitians to help them stick to a reduced-calorie diet and exercise plan, alongside the weekly injections. 

Volunteers in the study, which was funded by Wegovy, reported improvement in their quality of life and a reduction in risk factors for developing heart disease and diabetes, such as reduced waist circumference, blood fats, blood sugar and blood pressure. 

The drug triggered side effects include mild or moderate nausea and diarrhoea, but researchers said these were short-lasting and resolved themselves.

Professor Rachel Batterham, an obesity expert at University College London who co-authored the study, last year said the findings are a ‘major breakthrough for improving the health of people with obesity’. 

She said: ‘No other drug has come close to producing this level of weight loss – this really is a gamechanger. 

‘For the first time, people can achieve through drugs what was only possible through weight-loss surgery.’ 

Helen Knight, programme director in the centre for health technology evaluation at NICE, said: ‘We know that management of overweight and obesity is one of the biggest challenges our health service is facing with nearly two thirds of adults either overweight or obese. 

‘It is a lifelong condition that needs medical intervention, has psychological and physical effects, and can affect quality of life.

‘But in recent years NICE has been able to recommend a new line of pharmaceutical treatments which have shown that those people using them, alongside changes to their diet and exercise, have been able to reduce their weight.’

The was approved as a weight-loss treatment by the US Food and Drug Administration in June.

Americans with a BMI higher than 27 with at least one weight-related condition are eligible for the drug, as well as all patients with a BMI above 30.

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