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New Weight Loss Drug Saxenda: FAQ

New Weight Loss Drug Saxenda: FAQ


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Dec. 24, 2014 — A drug that treats type 2 diabetes has gotten FDA approval for another use: weight loss.


Saxenda is the fourth drug for weight loss OK’d by the agency since 2012. It’s already available in a lower dose as Victoza for type 2 diabetes.

Researchers began to study it as an obesity treatment after people on Victoza reported weight loss.

Saxenda, like Victoza, is injected daily. It’s approved for people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30, considered obese, or a BMI of 27 with weight-related conditions such as high blood pressure.

It’s meant to be used with exercise and a reduced-calorie diet.

WebMD asked two experts to address commonly asked questions about Saxenda.

How does the drug work to achieve weight loss?

It mimics a hormone made in the intestines called GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide), says William Troy Donahoo, MD. He’s a staff physician in the Metabolic-Surgical Weight Management Department, Kaiser Permanente, Denver.

One role of GLP-1 is to tell your brain you’re full, he says.

The medicine works in many ways to help beta cells normalize blood sugars. Beta cells make and release insulin when blood sugar is high. They help those with type 2 diabetes keep their blood sugar normal.

How well does Saxenda work?

Donahoo says he expects a range of weight loss responses to Saxenda, just as he has seen various responses from people on Victoza for their diabetes.

Clinical trials of Saxenda continued for about a year and included about 4,800 patients, with some getting the drug and some a placebo.

“Clinical trials show that [more than] 60% of patients getting a daily 3-milligram injection lost at least 5% of their weight and 31% lost more than 10%,” says Osama Hamdy, MD, PhD. He’s the medical director of the Obesity Program at Joslin Diabetes Center.

In comparison, 34% of those on placebo lost at least 5% of their body weight, according to the FDA.

“It is not an impressive weight loss for an injectable and expensive medication with a lot of potential side events,” Hamdy says. He also says people generally lose less weight outside of clinical trials.

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