A type 2 diabetes drug may stop thousands of obese people from needing gastric bypasses, scientists claim.
United States (US) researchers at the Mayo Clinic found liraglutide, which controls appetite, helped patients lose 12 pounds (lbs)/5.44 kilogrammes over three months on average.
The prescription-only drug, which is self-injected, helps to slow down the stomach from emptying – making patients feel fuller for longer.
American experts believe the drug could steer fat adults onto the right path and avoid the need of expensive weight loss operations.
The number of British National Health Service (NHS) obesity operations has increased six-fold in ten years, figures show. Similar trends have been reported in the US.
A gastric bypass costs taxpayers up to £15,000 and there were 6,438 performed last year, costing a cash-strapped health service around £96 million.
Surgeons claim they are the most effective treatments for obesity and prevent diabetes and heart disease, saving the NHS millions of pounds.
Mayo Clinic researchers published their paper, based on 40 adults, in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology.
The participants had Body Mass Index (BMIs) within the healthy range, and were split into a placebo group or given liraglutide every day for five weeks.
BMI is a measure of weight in kilogrammes divided by height in metres squared (kg/m2).
Those given sugar pills lost an average of 6.6lbs (3kg) when they were measured at the follow-up. The average weight loss was 12lbs in the liraglutide group.
Dr. Michael Camilleri, study author, said: “Liraglutide appears to be very effective in inducing weight loss over three months of treatment. We also found that liraglutide dramatically slowed stomach emptying.”
This process is when the stomach empties its contents into the small intestine for further digestion. Making this slower allows someone to feel fuller for longer.
Camilleri said that weight loss could be predicted by measuring how well the stomach empties after two months on the drug.
He added: “Our findings are one example of the opportunity to individualize treatment based on the unique response of the patient.
“Medications are often prescribed in patients with obesity for at least six months.
“Making this determination after the first month has the potential to determine whether to continue the treatment or to stop relatively expensive treatment and move on to alternative approved therapy in accordance with guidelines.
“These alternatives could include prescription of other medications, endoscopic devices or bariatric surgery.”
NICE does not specifically recommend liraglutide as a weight loss treatment, but it says the drug has potential to help adults shed the pounds.
American drug regulators, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), approved liraglutide, sold as Saxenda, three years ago in aiding weight loss.