Semaglutides—weight loss and diabetes injectables like Wegovy, Ozempic, and Rybelsus—significantly improved blood sugar control and weight in adults with type 2 diabetes over a three-year period, according to new data released Monday at a major endocrine conference.
Results of the study—funded by Ozempic manufacturer Novo Nordisk—were presented by the Israeli researchers at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Hamburg, Germany.
Scientists retrospectively analyzed the data of more than 23,000 diabetic patients who used semaglutide. Six months after starting treatment, patients’ HbA1c levels—from a blood test that measures a person’s average glucose level over the previous 8-12 weeks—improved, falling an average of 0.77%. Body weight dropped by an average of 10 pounds.
Results were maintained over three years, among patients who took the drug that long, according to researchers, with weight down around 13 pounds throughout. HbA1c results remained down an average of 0.76% at the two-year mark and 0.43% at the three-year mark. A one percentage point reduction in HbA1c typically equates to a 40% reduction in the risk of diabetic complications like vision loss, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, amputation, and premature death.
The study represents the first long-term, large-scale, real-world trial of the blockbuster drug, researchers say. And its findings support the weekly use of the drug by type 2 diabetics, lead researcher Dr. Avraham Karasik, of the Maccabi Institute for Research and Innovation at Tel Aviv University in Israel, said in a news release about the study.
Results align with those of clinical trials of the drug, Karasik added—and they come as no surprise, according to experts Fortune spoke with.
While the findings were as expected, “large-scale, observational data to back up data from randomized clinical trials are helpful,” Dr. Utpal Pajvani, associate professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology at Columbia University in New York City, New York, tells Fortune.
Dr. Deborah B. Horn, an obesity medicine expert at UTHealth Houston in Texas, tells Fortune that “it is always reassuring to see results from a controlled environment like a clinical trial reproduced in the real world,” and added that the HbA1c and weight changes mirror what she sees in patients.
The take-home messages from the study, according to Horn: “If you take your medication consistently, you do better.”
A ‘wonder drug’ with both risks and benefits
Semaglutides, injected weekly, mimic a hormone produced in the intestines after meals called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). It helps regulate appetite and food intake.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved one of Novo Nordisk’s formulations, Wegovy, in 2021 for weight management in adults with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and/or high cholesterol. It’s intended to be used in conjunction with dieting and exercise. The FDA approved another Novo Nordisk formulation, Ozempic, as a treatment for Type 2 diabetes in 2017. And it approved the first oral semaglutide, Rybelsus, in 2019—also a Novo Nordisk product.
While semaglutides have been used to treat type 2 diabetics for six years and those with obesity for two, recent research has revealed that the so-called “wonder drug” may also help combat other diseases, like heart disease and heart failure.
But it’s not without risks. So far, the drug has generally only been studied in patients for a one-year period. But beyond that time, the risk of intestinal obstruction—a potentially fatal condition that requires surgery—continues to increase in type 2 diabetics, peaking around a year and a half, researchers from China wrote in a letter to the editor published this spring in medical journal Acta Pharmaceutical Sinica B.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration late last month updated its warning label for Ozempic, saying that the drug may lead to ileus, a condition in which the intestines don’t work correctly. Wegovy’s packaging information also acknowledges the risk.