Novo Nordisk's semaglutide spurs major weight loss in phase 2 obesity study

Novo Nordisk’s closely watched semaglutide has already shown it can spur weight loss in diabetic patients. Now it’s added evidence that it can help nondiabetic obesity patients shed pounds, too.

On Monday, the Danish drugmaker rolled out phase 2 data showing that subcutaneous injections of the GLP-1 candidate—currently approved to treat diabetes—helped patients lose up to 13.8% of their body weight after 52 weeks. That figure significantly topped the weight loss patients saw on placebo, at just 2.3%.

What’s more, most patients in the semaglutide arm benefitted: 83% of them lost 5% of their body weight or more, and 65% lost more than 10% of their body weight.

The results are encouraging for Novo, which is socking big dollars into the obesity field. In November, the company said it would launch semaglutide's fellow GLP-1 Saxenda in additional countries and lobby to get obesity recognized as a chronic disease. And on the semaglutide front, Novo plans to launch a 68-week, phase 3a trial this year in about 4,500 patients, along with a cardiovascular outcomes study in a whopping 12,500 patients.

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Of course, the potential opportunity is huge. "In the U.S. alone, more than 90 million adults have obesity," lead study investigator Patrick O'Neil, Ph.D., said in a statement. "We need to continue to research and develop new therapies to support those living with this chronic disease."

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But that’s assuming Novo can penetrate a market that’s so far been very unkind to drugmakers. Just last week, Orexigen Therapeutics, maker of obesity therapy Contrave, declared it would file for bankruptcy and auction off the unsuccessful product. Rivals Qsymia from Vivus and Arena from Eisai haven’t fared much better; their makers have faced investor unrest and massive job cuts since they rolled out the disappointing treatments.