Fat burning aids have taken the world by storm in recent months, with drug companies vying for their pill to hit the market first.
Although it’s not yet certain when Wegovy’s revolutionary weight-loss vaccine, which uses the active ingredient semaglutide to suppress appetite, will be available in the UK, it is said to be prescribed by GPs as part of a two-year study.
But many might be put off by the need to inject the drug, and the treatment comes with some nasty side effects, including nausea and diarrhea.
Pharmaceutical companies have attempted to address one of these problems by converting anti-obesity drugs into pill form.
Danish pharma giant Novo Nordisk, which is behind Wegovy and the diabetes vaccine Ozempic, is just one of the companies battling for approval of its weight-loss pill.
The company recently presented promising results from Phase III trials of its semaglutide pill, which was intended to be taken once a day. The participants lost 17.4 percent of their body weight after 68 weeks of taking the drug.
Also in the running are Eli Lilly with his Orforglipron pill and Pfizer with Danuglipron.
If that all seems too much to keep track of, The Sun has tried to answer your top questions about when these pills might be approved for use, how effective they might be, and what side effects they might have.
Which pills are in the running?
Novo Nordisk appears to be furthest along in the race to commercialize weight loss pills after the company released results from its Phase III clinical trials of its high-dose version of oral semaglutide.
The drug uses the same active ingredient as Novo Nordisk’s diabetes injection Ozempic and its weight-loss equivalent Wegovy, which is designed for weekly injections.
And it’s similar to a once-daily type 2 diabetes pill called Rybelsus that the Danish company already has on the market.
The main difference is that Novo’s new weight loss pill contains a much higher semaglutide dose of 50mg than just 7mg and 14mg.
These lower dosages do not result in effective weight loss.
Also in the running is Pfizer’s pill Danuglipron, which was recently tested in adults with type 2 diabetes.
Patients taking 120mg lost around 4.6kg over a 16-week period, and the results also suggest that Danuglipron might work faster than Ozempic, as the patients taking the pills lost almost as much weight as those who received the vaccine, but in almost half the time.
Eli Lilly, the third contender, is still in the midst of Phase 3 clinical trials for its oral drug Orforglipron, but recently released the results of Phase 2 trials for the treatment.
How do you work?
Semaglutide in its oral form works similarly to its injectable counterpart, Wegovy.
The active ingredient semaglutide promotes weight loss by mimicking the action of GLP-1 – or glucagon-like peptide-1 – a hormone in the brain that regulates appetite and feelings of satiety.
However, the semaglutide pill must be taken on an empty stomach every morning, unlike a once-weekly injection for Wegovy.
Eli Lilly’s Orforglipron is a so-called glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist (GLP-1RA) that activates hormones that regulate blood sugar, slow digestion and reduce appetite.
Danuglipron also works by suppressing appetite – by mimicking the naturally occurring hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1, which is normally released after eating.
As a result, patients feel full longer and consume fewer calories.
What are the side effects?
It appears that the weight loss pills produce side effects similar to those of the injections, including severe diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, and vomiting.
Novo Nordisk’s phase 3 studies also showed that around 13 percent of patients taking oral semaglutide experienced an “altered skin sensation” such as tingling, which mostly disappeared after several weeks.
The higher the dose, the more serious the side effects.
When could the pills reach the UK?
As of today, it looks like Novo Nordisk’s pill could be available in the UK and other markets first, having just completed the third clinical trials for oral semaglutide.
The company said it expects to file for regulatory approval in the US and EU in 2023, within six months.
But the global launch of oral semaglutide 50 mg will depend on things like “portfolio prioritization and manufacturing capacity,” according to the pharma giant.
Eli Lilly is still in the midst of phase 3 clinical trials for orforglipron, which means it will likely launch later than Novo Nordisk.
The same applies to Danuglipron from Pfizer.
According to CNBC, pills are easier to make than injections, which come in the form of disposable pens.
That means the oral drugs could potentially help alleviate the supply shortages that drugs like Wegovy are suffering in the U.S.
Pills also tend to be cheaper than injections, although it’s unclear if this is the case with the obesity pills.
The pharmaceutical companies have not yet provided any information on how they intend to price their products.