Obesity Drug Beloranib Shows Promise

Massachusetts-based Zafgen, a biopharmaceutical company devoted to treating obesity, may have taken a big step toward making the growing health concern obsolete.

According to the results of a recent study, severely obese patients treated with Zafgen’s new drug, beloranib, were able to drop as many as 21 pounds in three months on the drug, about 12 percent more than those who were taking a placebo.

Part of the second phase of study for the drug, the results were released at a recent conference of the American Diabetes Association.

The study included 160 obese patients with an average body mass index (BMI) of 38. Participants were given either one of three different dosages of the drug or a placebo and were studied over the course of 12 weeks.

Even those who received the smallest amount of the drug, which works by changing the way the body metabolizes fat, were able to lose weight.

According to researchers, those who received the smallest amount of the drug lost an average of 8.4 pounds during the 12-week study, those who received the mid-range dose lose about 13.4 pounds and those who received the highest dose lost an average of 21.8 pounds.

Because beloranib changes the way the body metabolizes fat, it addresses one of the biggest obstacles facing those struggling with obesity-when weight gain reaches obese levels, the body begins producing an enzyme that encourages the body to store fat, making weight loss that much more difficult.

The drug-which also has shown cardiovascular benefits by reducing risk factors including cholesterol,  triglycerides, and C-reactive programs-has erased that problem, at least in initial studies.

Tests of the drug began in 2005 based on research from Boston Children’s Hospital, which led researchers to belief that the drug helped shrink fat tissue. Though that initial hypothesis was wrong, the drug did restore normal fat metabolism in severely obese people, encouraging their bodies to release fat as fuel.

“Consistent results showing rapid and substantial weight loss in three independent, placebo-controlled and doubleblinded studies raise our confidence in beloranib as an obesity therapeutic,” said Thomas Hughes, PhD, president and CEO at Zafgen.  

Though there were side effects-mild nausea, vomiting and diarrhea-those could be attributed to changes in eating habits that occurred during the course of treatment, researchers said.

The drug is being developed as a twice-weekly injection administered under a doctor’s supervision.

Based on the results of animal testing, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company expects to begin larger studies, and plans to develop the drug as not only as an alternative to gastric bypass, but also as a replacement for bariatric surgery to slow the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

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