Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s diabetes drug exenatide helped severely obese teenagers lose weight, according to a study that suggests a new use for some medicines used to control blood sugar.
Exenatide, also known under the brand names Bydureon and Byetta, enabled the teens to lose an average of 2.7 percent of their body mass index over three months, according to the results published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. The study had 26 severely obese participants ages 12 to 19.
About 15 percent of children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese, and about 5 percent are severely obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Though statistically significant, the weight loss achieved in the study was modest, said study author Aaron Kelly. Exenatide might be used in combination with other weight loss medications to achieve stronger results, he said.
“What it ultimately is going to take is combination medical therapy,” Kelly, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said in an interview. “The BMI reduction is not impressive, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
BMI, is a measure of weight and height, with a 5-foot, 4-inch (160-centimer) woman weighing 175 pounds (80 kilograms) having a BMI of 30. BMI of 30 or more is considered obese, while a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, according to the National Institutes of Health, based in Bethesda, Maryland. A BMI of 40 and more is considered extremely obese. For a 5-foot-6-inch tall adolescent, that would include those weighing 220 pounds or more, according to the Atlanta-based CDC.
Bristol-Myers acquired exenatide when it bought Amylin Pharmaceuticals for $6.49 billion last August. The drug is expected to generate $910 million in sales this year, according to the average of three analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
Exenatide is from a class of drugs known as GLP-1 receptor agonists. They act on the brain to reduce appetite, and also slow the transit of food in the gut, making people feel fuller. Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk A/S sells a related product, Victoza. Bristol-Myers, based in New York, and Novo Nordisk have clinical trials for obesity indications.
People with obesity are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, cardiac diseases, and other chronic conditions that can lead to illness and death later on.
Obese adolescents are a “population that’s very difficult to manage with lifestyle alone,” Kelly said. By the time they’ve reached that weight, their brains may no longer be very good at regulating appetite and fullness from food. They’re also less likely to get weight-loss surgery, he said.
“If we can intervene early and change that trajectory, it will very likely reduce that level of obesity in adulthood,” Kelly said.
Patients in the study were divided into two groups, half of which got exenatide and half of which got placebo. After three months, patients on the drug cut their BMI by 2.7 percent, compared with 0.2 percent for those on the placebo. After three more months on the drug, the study group had lost 4 percent of BMI, on average.
The next steps will be trying out combination therapies to move past a 4 percent BMI reduction, aiming for a 10 percent to 15 percent loss, Kelly said.
The study was supported by grants from the University of Minnesota Clinical and Translational Science Institute and from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.