WASHINGTON, July 2 (UPI) -- The injectable drug Saxenda helped participants in a study lose an average 18.5 pounds over the course of a year -- triple what participants given a placebo lost in that time.
Researchers caution, however, that most obese participants in the study stayed obese, reversal of metabolic syndrome was not seen, and the effects of the drug may fade when it stops being taken.
"This medication adds to the options physicians will have in helping overweight and obese patients lose weight and keep it off," Dr. F. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, a professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center told HealthDay. "[Saxenda] can lower weight, improve cardiovascular risk factors and improve quality of life. It can also reduce the progression to type 2 diabetes from prediabetes."
Saxenda is already available in lower doses for type 2 diabetes patients under the name Victoza.
The study included 3,731 participants who did not have type 2 diabetes and were obese. Participants were split into two groups, with 2,487 taking daily injections of Saxenda and 1,244 given a placebo. Both groups also received lifestyle counseling.
Researchers found that 63 percent of participants given Saxenda lost at least 5 percent of their body weight and 33 percent lost more than 10 percent. In the placebo group, 27 percent lost 5 percent of their weight and 10.6 percent lost more than 10 percent of their weight.
Dr. Elias Siraj, director of the diabetes program at Temple University School of Medicine and Hospital, wrote in an editorial published with the study that a 5 to 10 percent modest loss of body weight makes other health conditions more manageable, he suggested being cautious to call it a magic-bullet solution to obesity.
The biggest question, he wrote, is whether or not people can maintain or continue their weight loss after they stop taking Saxenda, noting that most participants stayed obese following the study. The cost of the drug is high -- it costs between $1,000 and $1,800 per month in the United States -- which may be a barrier for some patients to use for an extended amount of time or indefinitely.
"We should not lose sight of the need to adjust lifestyle, diet and exercise," he said. "Medications, too, can be helpful. But for some patients I think it is going to be a significant tool, but we have to wait for longer studies."
The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.