Hot weight loss drugs tested as addiction treatments

Mitch Leslie in Science:

When the diabetes treatments known as GLP-1 analogs reached the market in 2005, doctors advised patients taking the drugs that they might lose a small amount of weight. Talk about an understatement. Obese people can drop more than 15% of their body weight, studies have found, and two of the medications are now approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for weight reduction. A surge in demand for the drugs as slimming treatments has led to shortages. “This class of drugs is exploding in popularity,” says clinical psychologist Joseph Schacht of the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

But patient reports and animal studies have yielded tantalizing signs that the drugs may spur another unexpected and welcome effect: fighting addiction. Most early trials were disappointing, but they used less potent versions of the drugs. Now, at least nine phase 2 clinical trials are underway or being planned to test whether the more powerful compound semaglutide and its chemical cousins can help patients curb their use of cigarettes, alcohol, opioids, or cocaine. Hopes are high. Semaglutide (sold under the trade names Wegovy, Ozempic, and Rybelsus) “is truly the most exciting drug for the last few decades,” says neuropharmacologist Leandro Vendruscolo of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

If the results of the new trials are positive, addiction science could have its own “Prozac moment,” says clinical neuroscientist W. Kyle Simmons of the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. In the 1980s, that drug brought a sea change to psychiatry, becoming part of popular culture and leading to the wider use of antidepressants.

More here.