- Weight loss medications such as semaglutide, tircepatide, and liraglutide help regulate appetite and digestion.
- They affect a hormone called GLP-1, but some may be more effective than others.
- Newer drugs, such as retatrutide, may have better results by affecting several hormones at once.
The latest class of weight-loss drugs has been revolutionary in the treatment of obesity and related diseases such as diabetes, and more are on the way to further study and FDA approval.
With new research coming out regularly, it can be difficult to keep track of all the options.
Here are the main weight loss drugs currently used and studied, how they work, and the latest research and news on their effectiveness and side effects.
Semaglutide (sold as Ozempic, Wegovy)
Background: Semaglutide, a once-weekly injection first designed to treat diabetes, was one of the first drugs of its kind to be called a “game changer” for weight loss. It received FDA approval for this purpose in 2021 and is sold by Danish pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk.
The drugmaker is also developing a once-daily pill version of semaglutide, and early evidence suggests it could be as effective as injections.
How does it work: It mimics a naturally occurring hormone called GLP-1, which helps regulate appetite and digestion. As a result, patients notice a reduction in their cravings, especially for highly palatable foods such as sugary treats or large, fatty meals.
Efficacy in clinical trials: Clinical trials found that patients receiving semaglutide lost an average of 15% of their body weight over 68 weeks. However, research suggests that people need to continue using the drug to maintain weight loss.
New evidence suggests that semaglutide may also help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. One study found that it may help prevent colon cancer as well.
Side effects: Common side effects of the drug include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and constipation.
Why you’ve heard of it: Semaglutide has gained a lot of popularity thanks to endorsements from celebrities like Elon Musk. Due to social media trends, Ozempic has become one of the most recognizable terms for diet pills, even though this brand name is marketed for diabetes.
Popular terms like “Ozempic face” refer to the brand while describing the side effects, in this case the sagging skin associated with rapid weight loss.
Semaglutide has also been controversial because widespread shortages began shortly after it was approved for weight loss. High demand prompted a wave of “copycat” versions of the drug, known as semaglutide.
Publishing: About $936 for Ozempic and $1,349 for Wegovy per month. Insurance coverage can be complicated, putting the drug out of reach for many who could benefit from it.
Tirzepatide (sold as Mounjaro, Zepbound)
Background: Tirzepatide is a newer drug that earned FDA approval to treat diabetes in 2022 under the brand name Mounjaro from pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.
Lilly’s version specifically for weight management, brand Zepbound, received FDA approval in early November 2023.
How does it work: Tirtsepatide affects GLP-1, like semaglutide, but also affects another GIP hormone, which can increase effects on appetite and weight loss, obesity medicine doctors previously told Insider.
Efficacy in clinical trials: Available evidence suggests that it may even be more effective than semaglutide in helping patients lose weight. An early study found that people who took the drug lost 20% of their weight, an average of 52 pounds, in about 16 months.
A clinical trial found that nearly half of overweight diabetics using the drug lost at least 15% of their body weight, a “landmark” according to the study’s lead author.
A recent study also found that people who stop taking tircepatide regain at least some of the weight they lost on the drug.
Side effects: Tirsepatide has similar side effects to semaglutide, including gastrointestinal problems, but they may be less severe because the drug’s effect on both hormones is moderated.
Why you’ve heard of it: Like semaglutide, tircepatide has made a name for itself in the media with dramatic weight loss stories and social media trends, as well as patient concerns about the drug’s long-term availability.
Publishing: $1,023 per month for Mounjaro, $1,059.87 for Zepbound
Liraglutide (sold as Victroza and Saxenda)
Background: Liraglutide, also sold by Novo Nordisk, has been available as comparable longer-acting GLP-1 drugs, approved in 2010 for diabetes and in 2014 for weight loss.
How does it work: It is less long-lasting than the newer drugs, and therefore must be given once a day as an injection once a week.
Efficacy in clinical trials: Studies suggest that patients lost about 5-10% of their body weight, according to one review.
Side effects: Although liraglutide has similar gastrointestinal side effects to other GLP-1 drugs, it has also been associated with more worrisome reactions, such as pancreatitis, gallbladder disease, and, in rare cases, mental health symptoms such as worsening depression or insomnia.
Publishing: About $1,349 a month for Saxenda
Retatrutide: the newest drug awaiting FDA approval
Background: Retatrutide is the latest competitor in once-weekly injectable GLP-1 drugs currently scheduled for Phase 3 trials from pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.
How does it work: It has earned the nickname “triple G” because it works on three different hormone pathways. Like semaglutide, reatrutide acts on GLP-1, and like tircepatide, it acts on GIP. However, it adds one more interaction to the mix by targeting the receptors with another hormone, glucagon, which affects blood sugar.
Efficacy in clinical trials: The latest evidence, published June 26 in The New England Journal of Medicine, showed that patients who took the highest dose of the drug once a week lost 24.2% of their weight in 48 weeks, comparable to bariatric surgery.
Side effects: Studies are still ongoing to understand the potential side effects of retatrutide. Available evidence suggests that any problems are mostly gastrointestinal and can be managed by starting at a lower dose and gradually increasing it, as with other GLP-1 drugs.
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