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Weight loss jab ‘could reduce heart attack risk’

Obesity jabs could cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes in people even if they fail to lose much weight, according to an analysis of a study funded by a drug manufacturer.

Researchers looked at semaglutide – a prescription drug offered by the NHS – that supresses appetite and is sold under the brand names Wegovy and Ozempic.

They said the weekly shots could also benefit the cardiovascular health of millions of adults.

The latest results are not in a journal yet but have been showcased at a conference.

Prof John Deanfield, who led the work, said semaglutide could have a positive impact on blood sugar, blood pressure or inflammation, as well as direct effects on the heart muscle and vessels.

The study, run by University College London (UCL) with 17,604 over-44s from 41 countries, had already shown heart benefits.

Now, some data from the same Select trial, funded by Novo Nordisk, suggests there are benefits irrespective of a person’s starting weight and how much they lose.

‘Major breakthrough’
Speaking ahead of presenting the study at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Italy, Prof Deanfield said the findings had “important clinical implications”.

He said it was an important discovery – likening it to when cholesterol-fighting tablets called statins were introduced in the 1990s.

“We finally figured out that there was a drug class that would change the biology of this disease to benefit a lot of people. That was a major breakthrough and it’s transformed cardiology practice.

“We now have this class of drugs which could equally transform many chronic diseases of ageing,” he claimed.

Wegovy has the same ingredient as Ozempic – a diabetes medicine said to be Hollywood’s “skinny jab” of choice.

However, experts have previously warned it is not a quick fix or a replacement for eating well and exercising, and should only be offered under medical supervision.

Common side effects include nausea or an upset stomach, bloating and gas.

And people may put weight back on once they stop the treatment, trials suggest.

Semaglutide mimics the hormone GLP-1, which makes people feel fuller and less hungry.

It must be prescribed by a doctor – to overweight or obese patients, who then inject themselves once a week, using pre-filled pens.

Risk reduction

The analysis examined the amount of time before patients suffered major cardiovascular events – such as heart attack or stroke – or whether they developed heart failure.

After 20 weeks on the drug, 62% of patients had lost more than 5% of their bodyweight compared with 10% in a placebo group.

However, the risk reduction of heart attacks, stroke or heart failure was similar in patients who lost more than 5% of their bodyweight and in those who lost less than 5%, or gained weight.

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.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Prof Deanfield said the drug has a “potentially important place” in the treatment for obesity.

“There are many people living overweight or with obesity, who have struggled to improve their weight, and these drugs, for that reason alone, produce an important clinical opportunity,” he said.

“But these are drugs that will also improve their background medical problems. That really is quite exciting.”

However, Prof Rameen Shakur, an expert in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Brighton, who was not involved in the research, said caution was needed.

“We are unclear on the mechanism and biological process by which semaglutide might reduce cardiac mortality per se.

“I don’t think it is commercially realistic to put whole populations on a medical therapy until you know how the biological system works.

“Interestingly, there remains a risk of pancreatitis and some rare thyroid cancers which is often not stated and this should also be monitored during the course of patient use.”