Published on November 12, 2023, 12:44 am

New data presented at a major medical meeting suggests that Novo Nordisk’s obesity treatment, Wegovy, provides heart-protective benefits beyond just weight loss. The early data from the Danish drugmaker’s Select trial showed that Wegovy not only helped patients lose an average of 15% of their weight but also reduced the incidence of heart attack, stroke, and death from heart disease by 20%.

The full results from the study, which were presented at the American Heart Association annual scientific meeting and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed that Wegovy has other positive effects on health besides weight loss. The cardiovascular benefits of Wegovy were observed even before patients started losing weight, suggesting that the protection against heart disease was not solely due to weight loss.

In the study involving overweight and obese patients with preexisting heart disease but not diabetes, Wegovy reduced the risk of non-fatal heart attack by 28%, non-fatal stroke by 7%, and heart-related death by 15% compared to a placebo.

Dr. Chad Weldy, a cardiologist at Stanford University, emphasized that while this trial did not investigate how Wegovy prevents heart disease from occurring initially, it shed light on how it can slow down its progression. He noted that considering the large patient population covered by this trial, doctors should consider prescribing Wegovy to patients who have had a heart attack or obstructive coronary disease and have a body mass index (BMI) higher than 27.

Dr. Bruno Halpern, head of the obesity center at Hospital 9 de Julho in São Paulo, Brazil, suggested that Wegovy should now be considered as a frontline treatment for heart disease.

The researchers behind this study acknowledged that the mechanisms responsible for semaglutide’s (the active ingredient in Wegovy) cardiovascular protection are still speculative. However, there is evidence of consistent effects on associated risk factors such as inflammation, blood pressure, and blood sugar control, all of which can influence heart health.

With regards to safety, the study found that patients taking Wegovy experienced a decrease in C-reactive proteins, an indicator of inflammation, similar to patients using cholesterol-lowering statins. Notably, nearly 1,500 participants discontinued Wegovy treatment due to gastrointestinal side effects like nausea and vomiting.

It is worth mentioning that the results of this trial may not necessarily apply to all GLP1-class drugs and may be specific to semaglutide. Approval for updating Wegovy’s label to include its heart benefits is expected in the United States by the first half of next year and in the European Union by the second half.

The introduction of Wegovy as a potential treatment option for heart disease will undoubtedly spark discussions among healthcare professionals regarding when and how to prescribe the drug and what level of weight loss is necessary to achieve its cardiovascular benefits.