Scientists have created a new pill that can halt type 2 diabetes in its tracks and help patients shed pounds from their waistlines, a major study has revealed.
Results from a human trial of 632 patients found semaglutide allowed 71 per cent of them to shed pounds – it is believed this is the first type 2 diabetes pill to instigate weight loss.
Researchers hope semaglutide will offer a better way to control the hidden killer, as some treatments currently available can trigger unexpected weight gain which fuels type 2 diabetes.
Results from the phase II trial carried out by the Leicester Diabetes Centre were published in the prestigious JAMA. Semaglutide could be available on the NHS within three years.
The pill was handed as an add-on to patients already taking Metformin – the drug is the first line of defence to control the preventable condition.
Researchers discovered semaglutide stopped type 2 diabetes in its tracks, slashed blood sugar levels and prevented patients from needing insulin.
Type 2 diabetes can lead to heart failure, blindness and leg amputations and is deemed a global time bomb.
Spiraling obesity rates have fuelled a 65 per cent rise in diagnoses in a decade, with more than 4 million people now living with the condition, UK data shows. Globally there are 380 million patients.
Charities have warned the NHS will become crippled by the burden of the condition without urgent action to make changes to today’s lifestyles.
Professor Melanie Davies, lead author, dubbed the results ‘hugely promising’ and said they show ‘semaglutide’s ability to lower HbA1c and support weight loss’.
Offering patients some relief
Lead author Professor Melanie Davies said taking semaglutide as a pill may provide relief to some diabetics who ‘struggle injecting themselves’.
She told MailOnline: ‘For some patients injectable therapies are a problem, so having something available orally makes it more accessible to some patients.
‘We know that it is a bit of a barrier to people and anything that makes treatment more accessible and easier has got to be seen as good.
Professor Davies added: ‘Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition with potentially devastating complications which is posing a major challenge to health services across the world because of the increasing numbers of people developing it.
‘These results demonstrating semaglutide’s ability to have a significant impact on lowering HbA1c and support weight loss when taken orally therefore are hugely promising.’
Experts have welcomed the ‘encouraging’ findings.
Oliver Jelley, editor of The Diabetes Times, told MailOnline: ‘Type 2 diabetes has become one of the greatest challenges facing the NHS. These latest results are hugely encouraging and will be welcomed across the diabetes community.’
Semaglutide is a glucagon-like-peptide-1 (GLP-1) analogue, a relatively new group of injectable drugs. It can also be taken orally as a pill.
It works by stimulating the production of insulin and suppressing the secretion of the glucose-raising hormone glucagon. The drug also lowers appetite.
How was the study carried out?
Participants were either given semaglutide orally, as an injection or they were given a placebo. They were monitored over 26 weeks.
Each volunteer suffered from type 2 diabetes and had a BMI above or equal to 25 – the medical level that deems adults as overweight.
What else did they find?
As well as the weight loss benefits, the researchers also found reductions of up to 1.9 per cent on average of HbA1c – how blood sugar is measured over time.
The findings mirrored those of the once weekly injection, and proved significantly better than the placebo (0.3 per cent).
Nearly nine tenths of patients receiving oral semaglutide achieved the target HbA1c level of less than 7 per cent.
Healthy adults tend to have HbA1c levels of below 6 per cent, as levels of 6.5 per cent or higher can signal diabetes.
How many sufferers are there?
Figures suggest there are 3.8 million sufferers in the UK – with 90 per cent having type 2. Drugs to treat the conditions cost the NHS a tenth of its yearly budget.
In the US, there are 29 million diabetics, with a similar breakdown between type 1 and 2, with the latter often triggered by poor lifestyles.
Although there are several treatments currently available, many come with risks of developing hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), as well as weight gain.
If the condition worsens, patients need insulin injections – which many patients find unpleasant.