A medication under review by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of type 2 diabetes may also promote weight loss, according to a study published online Thursday in the Lancet.
The drug, liraglutide, was approved earlier this year in Europe for the treatment of diabetes. It is marketed under the brand name Victoza.
The injected drug stimulates the release of insulin when glucose levels become too high. It also helps curb appetite. In the new study, researchers in Denmark assigned 564 obese people to one of four liraglutide doses, a placebo or the weight-loss drug orlistat. All the participants followed a diet of about 500 fewer calories than they needed to maintain their weight. They also increased their physical activity levels.
After 20 weeks, those on liraglutide lost more weight than those on the placebo. Participants on the highest dose of liraglutide lost 15 pounds, compared with 6 pounds on the placebo and 9 pounds on orlistat. Three-quarters of the subjects on the highest dosage of liraglutide lost 5% or more of their body weight.
The medication also reduced blood pressure at all dosages. At the three highest dosages, liraglutide reduced symptoms of pre-diabetes -- blood glucose levels above normal but not yet high enough to qualify as diabetes.
The most common side effects of liraglutide were nausea and vomiting. Patients did not seem to mind injecting the drug, the authors noted.
Longer studies are needed, said an accompanying editorial by Dr. George A. Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University.
"Whether long-term use of an injectable drug is palatable as a treatment for obesity is yet to be established," he said.
The FDA has also raised questions about whether the medication can cause thyroid tumors, said Dr. Mitchell S. Roslin, chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "As a weight-loss drug, liraglutide faces many hurdles," Roslin said in a prepared statement. But, "drugs that can control diabetes, without causing weight gain, have huge potential. Furthermore, this group of patients is used to injections of insulin and Byetta. For a primary obesity drug to require injections would require blockbuster data."
The study was funded by Novo Nordisk, the Denmark-based company that makes Victoza.