Researchers explore 9 more diseases GLP-1s could treat

Researchers are expanding horizons for the diseases and disorders that GLP-1s such as Ozempic, Mounjaro and Wegovy could treat.

As glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists, the therapies mimic a gut hormone that suppresses appetite and promotes a feeling of fullness. The drug class is increasingly popular — especially for off-label prescriptions for weight loss — and ongoing research hints at a larger portfolio of potential uses. Demand for the drugs has soared in recent years and more studies are finding ways it can improve treatment for diseases beyond diabetes and obesity.

Here are nine diseases researchers are exploring using GLP-1s to treat:

1. Sleep apnea

Among adult study participants with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea and obesity, about 30 fewer sleep apnea events per hour happened while taking tirzepatide — the active pharmaceutical ingredient for Type 2 diabetes drug Mounjaro and weight loss medication Zepbound. 

Eli Lilly conducted two phase 3 trials testing the medicine among adults who do and do not use positive airway pressure therapy. Among patients not using PAP therapy, tirzepatide reduced an average of 27.4 events per hour, and for those using PAP, 30.4 events per hour were avoided.

2. Kidney disease

A Novo Nordisk trial tested Ozempic on 3,533 people with Type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease. It found the drug reduced the risk of kidney disease progression and the risk of kidney and cardiovascular death by 24%.

3. Fatty liver disease

Eli Lilly said it used tirzepatide in a phase 2 trial for patients with a form of liver disease called metabolic dysfunction-associated steatohepatitis. The trial of 190 adults with MASH and severe stages of liver scarring showed that 74% of those who received higher doses of the drug became free of MASH, with no worsening liver scarring after a year.

4. Dementia and Parkinson's

Scientists in the U.S. and U.K. have begun trials to see if GLP-1s can aid patients with dementia and Parkinson's. 

Past research has indicated GLP-1s can reduce amyloid and tau on the brain — two proteins connected to dementia. At the University of Oxford in England, a phase 1 and 2 trial is underway to see if GLP-1s can minimize the risk of dementia. 

A phase 2 trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found patients with early Parkinson's disease taking GLP-1 drugs experienced no worsening of motor symptoms over a year.

5. Addiction

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, researchers are investigating Ozempic and Wegovy as possible treatments for alcohol and drug addiction in humans after finding success in animal studies. Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and the University of Baltimore are also launching research into how GLP-1s can affect alcoholism.

6. Anxiety and depression

An Epic Research analysis of about 4 million patients' health records showed that people prescribed a GLP-1 drug were less likely to experience anxiety and depression. 

7. Cardiovascular diseases

Trials sponsored by Wegovy's drugmaker and independent researchers have found possible avenues for the weight loss drug to be indicated for heart diseases. 

In phase 3 trials, Novo Nordisk found Wegovy reduced heart failure-related symptoms and helped patients evade 20% of major adverse cardiovascular events. The drugmaker said it plans to file for broader indications based on the data. 

An independent study of using GLP-1s in mice showed the medications suppressed heart inflammation, which suggests potential remedies for heart disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

8. Extra weight loss uses 

Novo Nordisk is also exploring a pill form of Ozempic, a weekly injectable diabetes drug. The company tested the experimental therapy's efficacy among more than 600 adults who are obese or overweight, and on average, the patients shed 15.1% of their weight in the phase 3 study. 

GLP-1s are also gaining popularity among menopausal women who want to lose weight. 

Most women gain up to 1.5 pounds each year during menopause, and the weight gain can lead to a higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

"We're getting requests daily," Stephanie Faubion, MD, medical director for the Menopause Society and director of the Mayo Clinic's Center for Women's Health, told The New York Times

9. Cancer

A small study of 20 people signaled a potential for semaglutide, the active ingredient of Ozempic, Rybelsus and Wegovy, to be used as a cancer treatment. Researchers found an "independent mechanism" in the ingredient that can boost natural killer cells, which destroy cancerous cells. 

"Our data demonstrate, for the first time, the restoration of peripheral blood NK cell cytokine production and cytotoxicity in [people with obesity] treated with GLP-1 analogues," the researchers concluded.

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