Weight loss jabs act like statins to cut risk of heart death

Ozempic cuts risk of heart death, study finds

Weight loss jabs cut the risk of heart death by a fifth, a study has found, with medics calling for them to be prescribed like statins.

The research – the largest ever trial of the injections – set out to examine the long-term weight loss impact of Wegovy, which is also licensed as Ozempic to treat diabetes.

But scientists found the jabs had an astonishing impact on heart health, with those taking the drugs for at least three years cutting their risk of heart attack, stroke or cardiac death by 20 per cent.

The findings have been hailed as the biggest breakthrough in cardiac medicine since statins in the 1990s.

Britain’s leading cardiologist, who led the trial and is a government tsar on the prevention of ill-health, said he would recommend a mass rollout of the jabs to save lives.

Millions of middle-aged people with a history of heart disease could be prescribed the weekly injections to cut deaths from one of Britain’s biggest killers.

Experts said the jabs, which were originally designed to treat diabetes, were also showing promise in preventing a host of deadly conditions, with trials examining the impact on Alzheimer’s disease, heart failure and cancer.

Professor John Deanfield, from University College London, told the Congress on Obesity in Venice: “This fantastic trial really is a game-changer.”

He likened the breakthrough to the discovery of statins.

“In the 1990s when statins came in, we finally figured out that there was a class of drugs that would change the biology of this disease,” he told the congress.

“That was a major breakthrough to transform cardiology practice. We now have a class of drugs that could equally transform many chronic diseases of ageing,” he said.

The mechanism appeared to have a direct effect on the heart, independent of the jabs’ impact on weight loss.

The NHS is currently piloting the rollout of the jabs for obese patients, but the vast majority of medication is prescribed privately.

Rishi Sunak is keen to see a wider expansion, with Treasury interest in the impact the jabs could have in reducing long-term sickness and boosting productivity.

The research on 17,000 adults who were overweight or obese found that the risk of heart attack, stroke or cardiac death was cut by 20 per cent for those on semaglutide – the drug known as either Ozempic or Wegovy – for at least three years.

The effect is similar to that of statins, but over a much shorter time frame. The clot-busting drugs have been found to cut deaths by around one quarter in high-risk populations over 20 years.

All those enrolled in the new trial had a BMI of at least 27 and a history of heart attacks, strokes or peripheral arterial disease.

US scientists examining the long-term impact of the jabs on weight loss found they kept working for four years, including among people with the least weight to lose, with average loss of 9.4 per cent of body weight.

Cardiologists from University College London then investigated the impact of the drugs on the heart.

The research involved adults aged 45 or older from 41 countries, half of whom were put on semaglutide.

Prof Deanfield said that in future, the NHS should consider prescribing the jabs to anyone with a history of heart disease with a BMI of 27 or more - paving the way for mass rollout

He is the Government’s champion for personalised prevention, reporting directly to the health secretary on the economic case for stopping diseases early.

The cardiologist said he expected to see the mass rollout on the NHS, once it had been economically evaluated.

Prof Deanfield, who is also director of the National Institute of Cardiovascular Outcomes Research, said he would make “a clear case” to the Health Secretary about the benefits of a wide rollout of the jabs.

“The economics of this is very, very important,” he said, highlighting the potential to reduce taxpayer spending and boost the economy by preventing major diseases.

It follows research that shows obese workers are up to twice as likely to be off sick from work.

Around 8 million people in the UK have heart disease and a similar number take statins.

Prof Deanfield suggested around half of such patients could benefit from the jabs.

The “real excitement” about the findings was the way they showed that medicines that were designed to treat diabetes and obesity could prevent many killer diseases, he said.

Studies are now examining the impact of the jabs on a range of conditions including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

“We are talking about cardiovascular disease but there are other diseases that might benefit from these drugs which are going to be equally exciting” with results on neurological conditions and kidney disease due soon, he said

The study found that the benefits in cutting heart risks were “independent of extent of weight loss.”

Prof Deanfield said: “This suggests that there are potentially alternative mechanisms for that improved cardiovascular outcome with semaglutide beyond weight loss.

“We’re focusing here on weight loss, but quite clearly something else is going on that benefits the cardiovascular system.”

The study found that 6.5 per cent of those who got the drug had a heart attack or stroke or died from a heart-related cause in the three years that followed.

This was a 20 per cent drop from the 8 per cent among those given a dummy shot.

Those on the trial were already taking statins.

Scientists did not establish precisely what mechanism was occurring, but experts suggested it might be targeting a “common biological pathway” such as inflammation that fuels multiple diseases.

Heart disease is one of Britain’s biggest killers, causing a quarter of deaths before the age of 75.

It is estimated to cost the UK £25 billion a year as a result of disability, premature death and informal costs.

Last year the NHS said up to 50,000 people could be eligible for Wegovy on the NHS amid global shortages of the drugs. Tens of thousands of people in the UK have bought them privately.

Prof Jason Halford, president of the European Association for the Study of Obesity said: “I think in the next 10 years we’ll see a radical change in the approach to health care.

“Once the costs come down, then the cost savings to the NHS will be significant.

“There are already people in the Treasury thinking about the savings to the economy because of the opportunity to boost productivity. You need to get your workforce as fit as possible.”