Diabetes drug has major impact on obesity

A new diabetes drug has been found to reduce weight by up to four stone in people with obesity, a new study involving Irish researchers has shown

Tirzepatide, new diabetes medication taken once weekly by injection, has been found to have a major impact on weight loss among patients with obesity.

Irish Society of Nutrition and Metabolism (IrSPEN) member and St Vincent’s University Hospital Obesity Specialist Professor Carel le Roux was among a delegation that presented the findings of a trial of the medication in patients without diabetes at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes two days ago.

Prof. le Roux said: “This 72-week trial in people with obesity showed that tirzepatide provides significant and sustained reductions in body weight and all indications are that the health gain is substantial.”

The trial included 2,500 patients with obesity who received either a placebo or once-weekly injections of tirzepatide (5mg, 10mg, or 15mg) for 18 months. Patients weighed 16 stone at the start of the study.

Those who received the placebo and lifestyle treatment lost on average half a stone. However, patients who received 10 or 15mg doses of tirzepatide lost on average three stone and 40 per cent lost more than four stone. Side effects were mild or moderate and included nausea, diarrhoea or constipation.

Obesity affects more than a million people in Ireland and is one of the major causes of cancer, heart attacks and a reduction in quality of life.

Irish Coalition for People living with Obesity (ICPO) spokesperson Susie Birney said that ‘new medications for diabetes and obesity give hope to people living with these conditions – and more and more it is being understood that these chronic diseases are not their fault. Patients are eager to take responsibility together with their doctors and control their diseases in the long-term’.

Eli Lilly has obtained permission for tirzepatide to be used for patients with diabetes in the USA and has also received a favourable opinion from the European Medicines Agency. Final approval for use with patients in Ireland and other EU countries is awaited but expected in the near future.

Obesity is the major contributing factor to type 2 diabetes which affects more than 200,000 people in Ireland. Treatment for type 2 diabetes alone accounts for more than 10 per cent of the overall healthcare budget.

Meanwhile, a new international study has shown that the number of people living with type 1 diabetes is set to double by 2040.

Research published in The Lancet estimates that 8.4 million people were living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) across the world in 2021. This new modelling study predicts this figure to rise to between 13.5 million and 17.4 million people by 2040.

Despite historically being considered as a disease with onset in childhood, the research estimates that there were 316,000 adults diagnosed with T1D globally last year, compared to 194,000 children and adolescents.

“Our results provide a warning for substantial negative implications for societies and healthcare systems,” Prof. Graham Ogle of Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Australia, who is one of the authors of the study, said. “There is an opportunity to save millions of lives in the coming decades by raising the standard of care for T1D (including ensuring universal access to insulin and other essential supplies) and increasing awareness of the signs and symptoms of T1D to enable a 100 per cent rate of diagnosis in all countries.”

There is no national registry recording diabetes cases in Ireland, which according to Diabetes Ireland, hinders the HSE’s ability to plan for increased prevalence of the disease. However, using data modelled from the Scottish Diabetes Register, where prevalence of diabetes was 5.6 per cent of the total population, it is estimated that 28,800 people have type 1 diabetes in Ireland, while almost 235,000 people have type 2 diabetes.

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