INDIA – Doctors in India have raised concerns over the misuse of diabetes drugs, approved for managing diabetes and diabesity ( diabetic obesity), for off-label purposes such as weight loss. 

The drugs in question, including Semaglutide, Liraglutide, and Dulaglutide, belong to the class of glucagon-like-peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist drugs. 

While some of these drugs have been sanctioned for weight management in non-diabetic cases in the United States, they lack approval for such use in India.

Dr. Sanjay Verma, Director of GI, Minimal Access, and Bariatric Surgery at Fortis Hospital Escort, Okhla, highlighted the growing trend of non-diabetic patients resorting to these drugs for weight loss, often experiencing adverse effects such as nausea, vomiting, hypoglycemia, and pancreatitis. 

Dr. Verma emphasized the temporary nature of the weight loss achieved through these medications, cautioning against their misuse and underscoring their high cost, which ranges from Rs 20,000 (US$239) to Rs 25,000 (US$299) per month.

Dr. Vivek Bindal, Director and Head of the Max Institute of Minimal Access, Bariatric, and Robotic Surgery, illuminated the availability and usage of these drugs, noting that while Liraglutide has been available for a considerable period, Dulaglutide was initially administered weekly, and Semaglutide is now available in both weekly injection and oral tablet forms. 

Despite lacking approval for weight loss in India, Semaglutide injections, sanctioned by the US FDA for the same purpose, are being imported by individuals willing to incur additional expenses.

Dr. Bindal cautioned against the repercussions of using these drugs for weight loss, emphasizing the importance of maintaining adequate nutrition levels and highlighting potential side effects such as malnutrition and pancreatitis. 

He stressed the inadvisability of these medications for individuals with a family history of Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN) syndrome.

While studies suggest significant weight loss of around 5-10% within six months to one year with Semaglutide, Dr. Sudhir Kumar Kalhan, Senior Consultant at the Minimal Access and Bariatric Surgery Centre, reiterated the necessity for medical supervision when using these drugs due to their potential harmful effects. 

Dr. Kalhan emphasized that obesity is a lifestyle disorder with no quick fixes, cautioning against the use of these drugs without professional guidance.

Roche’s weight-loss drug breakthrough

In a pivotal step forward, Roche Holding’s weight-loss drug candidate, CT-388, has demonstrated promising efficacy in an early-stage trial. This position the Swiss pharmaceutical giant to contend with industry frontrunners Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly in the obesity and diabetes medication sphere. 

Acquired through the strategic purchase of Carmot Therapeutics for over US$3 billion, CT-388’s phase 1 study revealed substantial weight loss among obese adults compared to the placebo, sparking a notable surge in Roche shares. 

Despite this positive momentum, analysts caution that Roche still faces considerable hurdles in establishing CT-388’s market presence and commercial viability. 

Nevertheless, the encouraging trial results represent a significant milestone for Roche as it seeks to establish a foothold in the competitive weight-loss drug market, offering a potential avenue for addressing obesity and type 2 diabetes.

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