A weight loss drug, hailed as ‘game-changer’ in the fight against obesity, looks likely to be available in Ireland early next year.
Semaglutide works by hijacking the body’s own appetite regulating system in the brain, leading to reduced hunger.
A study of nearly 2,000 patients, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the mean change in body weight was -14.9% in the Semaglutide group, as against -2.4% in a placebo group.
The average weight loss in the study was almost 2.5 stone.
It also comes as the HSE is also looking at dramatically increasing access to weight-loss surgeries in the battle against Ireland’s obesity epidemic.
Dr Donal O’Shea is the HSE’s clinical lead for obesity.
He told Newstalk Breakfast the ‘penny has dropped’ on the obesity crisis.
“This drug, which is probably going to be licenced in Europe by the end of the year and available in Ireland by early next year, is the first step-change in drug management of obesity.
“There are other drugs in the pipeline that are kind of based on this drug, but with additional functions, that are delivering 25% to 30% weight loss in clinical trials – that’s equivalent to surgery.
“We have drugs to treat heart disease and we have operations to treat heart disease: we’re now reaching the point where we have drugs to treat obesity, and the HSE is committing to operations to treat obesity.
“I didn’t really think we would get to this point this quickly”.
‘Pandemic has created healthier routines’
He said under the plan, the number of surgeries will go from between 10 to 20 per million people to close to 40 per million.
“That is going to make close to 300 or 400 per million of our population, so we’ll be doing about 1,200 bariatric surgeries per year if this plan is fully implemented”.
“Eat less and move more is not the treatment for severe obesity, no more than ‘stop smoking’ is not the treatment for heart disease.
“It’s an important part of the treatment, but it’s not the treatment – and that penny has dropped now at the highest level in the HSE.
“So the board of the HSE have said obesity is a key priority for the next five years – and that has never been the case”.
And he said the pandemic has actually helped draw more attention to the issue.
“We don’t know the impact yet of the pandemic on obesity rates.
“I think a lot of people who put on their few pounds or kilos over Christmas have had more difficulty then normal loosing them.
“And certainly with our patient group, the pandemic environment has helped about 50% develop kind of healthier routines.
“The other 50% have found it more challenging just in terms of routine and making the healthier option and the healthier choice.”
“My fear was that the pandemic was going to push obesity down the list of priorities for the HSE, but in fact it’s done the opposite.”
He said this is because health outcomes of COVID-19 are very poor in people living with obesity.
“It’s made everybody actually realise that obesity itself is a disease… and therefore needs to be managed as such.
“So there is a massive attitude change and appetite for addressing the obesity epidemic”.