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Ozempic maker sets clinical trial to study drug's effect on alcohol consumption

The drug has reportedly reduced patients' urge to drink, which could mean it could help treat alcoholism.
Ozempic
Posted at 5:39 PM, May 20, 2024

The maker of Ozempic is planning to investigate a phenomenon surrounding its drug's effect on users' desire to drink alcohol.

Though the drug is approved for treating Type 2 diabetes — and is often used to aid in weight loss — users have reported an unintended side effect of taking the medication is a reduced craving to drink, suggesting it could potentially be used as a treatment in fighting alcoholism.

And while Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk has acknowledged that possibility, it's not precisely the main focus of its recently announced clinical trial, said to possibly have begun Monday in records filed last month.

The study will instead look into how semaglutide — the active ingredient in Ozempic and other GLP-1 receptor agonists, like Wegovy — and other medicines can improve liver health and reduce alcohol use in people with alcohol-related liver disease.

For 28 weeks, researchers will primarily study the medicine's effect on enhanced liver fibrosis, or scarring. As secondary focuses, Novo Nordisk will look into changes in alcohol consumption, total cholesterol and other level changes that may suggest liver damage.

"Secondary endpoints include safety and tolerability and changes in alcohol consumption," a Novo Nordisk spokesperson said in an email to CNN. "There is a significant unmet medical need in alcohol-related liver disease, and the first line of treatment for the condition is lifestyle intervention to refrain from drinking alcohol."

The trial plans to enroll an estimated 240 people with a history of alcohol overuse for five years or more and who have enhanced liver fibrosis.

Box of Ozempic medication

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So far, evidence and other clinical trials on the subject are minimal, but last year, Dr. Anders Fink Jensen of the University of Copenhagen told Scripps News a clinical trial of GLP-1 medications, like Ozempic, in diabetes patients gave a few early clues about these further effects. That pushed researchers to give GLP-1 to rats to test the theory.

The researchers found the various rodent groups they gave alcohol, nicotine, opioids and other drugs had "less craving" or fewer "rewarding effects of getting these compounds" when taking GLP-1 medications. And a different clinical trial on medically obese humans showed similar effects.

Dr. Mette Kruse of the University of Copenhagen said participants with an above-30 BMI at the beginning of the study reduced their alcohol intake and what they called "heavy drinking days" much more than the placebo group.

"Their brains didn't have as much activity in the reward center compared to the placebo group, so we kind of think that that's a thing of that the brains were more desensitized," Kruse said.

The latest data from KFF shows 12% of U.S. adults have taken a GLP-1 agonist. Meanwhile, the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 11.25% of adults had alcohol use disorder in the last year.

Dr. Ryan Marino, the medical director of toxicology and addiction medicine at the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, told Scripps News last year that people who are interested in treating alcohol use disorder with GLP-1 agonists should talk to their doctor.

"If people are interested in this, I would recommend talking to your doctor or health care provider and not trying to get this [Ozempic] off-label for that indication," Marino said. "But participating in the research could be promising and would help advance our understanding of it."