A new weight loss drug could spur the same transformation that Ozempic and Wegovy fueled thousands of Americans — without the pesky side effects.
Researchers at Syracuse University have developed a molecule that activates the same receptors in the brain as the two popular drugs. The obese mice that were exposed to it lost 12% of their body weight in just 16 days.
On top of his weight loss prowess, which was three times as effective as Victoza, he had no symptoms.
Named GEP44 by the researchers, the team hopes the molecule will form the basis of a highly effective weight loss treatment with limited drawbacks in the future.
If the team succeeds, they will also have a large market. GLP-1 drugs like Wegovy, Ozempic, and Mounjaro have been introduced in recent years as many doctors see them as a magic bullet to fight America’s obesity crisis.
Ozempic and Wegovy are becoming increasingly popular thanks to celebrity endorsements and social media. But new research suggests that upcoming drugs could offer fewer side effects (file photo)
Although it has been hailed as one of the most powerful pharmaceutical tools yet, experts have warned that it is not a “magic pill” or miracle fix for everyone. Experiments have shown that users can quickly rebuild their weight once they stop taking the anti-fat medication and it can lead to a variety of nasty side effects. Users commonly complain of nausea, constipation, and diarrhea after taking the drug
“Obesity and diabetes were the epidemic before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Robert Doyle, principal investigator of the research from Syracuse.
“It’s a huge problem, and it’s only set to get worse.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 70 percent of Americans are overweight, and 40 percent are obese.
And deaths from conditions linked to excess weight, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease, have also risen in recent years.
This has made finding a drug treatment for obesity a potential cash cow for major medical brands.
Novo Nordisk, a giant Danish pharmaceutical company, has had great success with its type 2 diabetes drug semaglutide — which was initially sold under the name Ozempic.
The drug is GLP-1, which mimics the effects of a hormone produced naturally in a person’s stomach and pancreas.
These hormones signal to the brain that it does not need to eat, thus reducing a person’s appetite and reducing food cravings.
It also slows stomach emptying and increases the amount of insulin secreted by the pancreas.
As a result, many patients also experienced severe weight loss.
This prompted Novo to repackage semaglutide as a drug that specifically targets obesity.
Wegovy, after rebranding, received FDA approval in 2021.
It was so popular that it was in short supply for most of 2022, with everyone from obese Americans to Hollywood’s elite trying to get its hands on it.
Tech mogul Elon Musch even credited Wegovy with his stark body transformation last year.
But the drugs have severe side effects. Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, fatigue, headache and other typical symptoms of Wegovy users.
“For a long time, we didn’t think you could separate weight loss from nausea and vomiting, because they’re connected to the same part of the brain,” explained Dr. Doyle.
In their research, which will be presented this week at the American Chemical Society (ACS) spring meeting, Dr. Doyle’s team tested the peptide against another Novo GLP-1 drug, liraglutide.
They developed a peptide—a molecule with many amino acids—that would stimulate GLP-1 receptors in the brain and peptide YY receptors in the brain, which tell the body to stop eating when stimulated.
They injected one group of mice with the newly synthesized peptide GEP44, and another with liraglutide — marketed under the name Victoza.
Mice exposed to the peptide reduced their food intake by 80 percent, proving its appetite-suppressing prowess.
During the study period, the rodents that used Victoza only lost a third of the weight of the other group.
On top of its impressive efficacy, mice injected with GEP44 were not found to experience any side effects.
The treatments have also been shown to reduce blood sugar by drawing glucose into muscle tissue, where it can be used as fuel, and by converting certain cells in the pancreas into insulin-producing cells.
This helps to replace those damaged by diabetes.
Those who used Novo experienced symptoms similar to what would be expected after exposure to GLP-1.
Dr. Doyle explained that reducing these side effects could be a key factor in the viability of this peptide as a key ingredient in a weight loss medication.
“Within a year, 80 to 90 percent of people who start taking these medications are no longer taking them,” he explained.
The team plans to test GEP44 in primates next, and eventually determine if it is suitable for weight loss in humans.