Saxenda – the new “blockbuster” weight loss drug
It is just so hard. To lose weight successfully requires constant diligence and a lifelong commitment to changing how you approach diet and exercise. The barbarians constantly await at the gates to storm your castle and pillage your weight loss success. Every party, birthday, holiday, and special occasion comes with a buffet full of danger. How often have you stood at the table mouth watering while an internal battle rages. It’s completely exahausting and you usually cave. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a medication that could really help us lose weight? A pill, a tablet, or a shot that could free us from the shackles of our collective national food addiction is all we’re asking for. Well, if you believe the drug maker Novo Nordisk, the magic, blockbuster drug has arrived and it’s called Saxenda.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I view all things media-hyped with a great deal of skepticism. In this case, however, there was reason for investigation. The FDA has approved the medication which at the very least means a team of physicians and statisticians have reviewed all the available data and confirmed that there are no major damaging side effects. They also have confirmed that the drug is successful at doing what the drug company says it is intended to do – in this case help people lose weight.
What is Saxenda? Saxenda, also called liraglutide, mimicks a naturally occuring hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1 (aka GLP-1). GLP-1 is released in response to food in the gut. It slows down intestinal movement and creates a sense of fullness thus inhibiting the desire to eat more. It also has effects on regulating blood sugar which is why it was originally studied and marketed as a drug to fight diabetes. One of the “side effects” of the drug was weight loss so Novo Nordisk rebranded, restudied, and resubmitted the drug for approval as a weight loss drug.
On December 23, 2014, the FDA announced approval of Saxenda for chronic weight management. This drug was approved for adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher or those with a BMI of 27 or higher who have at least one weight-related condition such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, or elevated cholesterol. It’s time to rejoice – the magic medicine has arrived!
Or maybe not. There’s a few big catches. First, this drug is a once a day injectible medication. That’s right, you have to give yourself a shot. Further, the patients in the largest clinical trial lost on average about 6% of their body weight. This is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also not the Earth-shattering number you would expect for the cost. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention the cost. It will run you about $1,000 per month. You heard me right. If you weigh 250 pounds, you’ll have to spend $12,000 per year to lose 15 pounds and if you stop the drug, the weight comes back. Don’t think it was the drug alone that brought the magic, these patients also had aggressive diet and exercise counselling. Therefore, you can expect to be less successful if you take the drug without changing your diet and exercising more. The main side effect was nausea (maybe that was due to the subjects finding out how much the drug cost). The bottom line is that for 12 grand a year you can inject yourself daily and expect to lose a few pounds as long you watch your diet and exercise. Not exactly a bargain.
There is some hope, however. There are other drugs under development that are like Saxenda but with some chemical modifications that will hopefully improve effectiveness and allow the medication to be taken by mouth. Hopefully they’ll make it cheaper too. If history teaches us anything, I would not get my hopes up. You can read my post on the last big drug released for weight loss Qsymia by clicking here.
For now, I would stick with the tried and true. Change your diet and exercise more. I know it’s cliche and depressing, but it has worked for millions. Peruse the rest of this blog for pointers on how to be successful with both. You can also buy my book by clicking here. If you follow the advice in my book you’ll lose more weight than with Saxenda and it will cost less than $20. That’s a much better deal, don’t you think?
As always, I’d appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.
- Wadden, TA, Hollander P, et al. Weight maintenance and additional weight loss with liraglutide after low-calorie-diet-induced weight loss: the SCALE Maintenance randomized study.Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Nov;37(11):1443-51