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A monoclonal antibody shows promise for weight loss in obese people with diabetes

Published: Mar. 2, 2022 at 10:18 PM CST
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An obese pedestrian walks on a street.
An obese pedestrian walks on a street.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Because of COVID-19, we have heard a lot about monoclonal antibodies. And an antibody treatment that is unrelated to the coronavirus is showing promise in obese people with diabetes.

Dr. Steven B. Heymsfield is a professor and Director of the Body Composition Lab at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana. He explained what monoclonal antibodies are.

“This is a synthesized protein a monoclonal antibody and it’s created in a laboratory,” said Heymsfield.

Pennington was one of nine research centers involved in a study of the experimental monoclonal antibody Bimagrumab. The drug is administered intravenously.

W.C. Franklin, 76, of Florida, was part of the clinical trial at AdventHealth in Florida.

“They weighed you, they measure you, they took your blood pressure, they drew blood,” said Franklin. “You had to lay in their hospital bed for probably about an hour and a half and be infused with a drug.”

The drug was developed to address muscle loss.

“The company that made the monoclonal antibody used the antibody to target a receptor in the body that activates muscle mass; that was the original concept,” Heymsfield stated.

He said the infusion did help with muscle mass.

“In the early studies of this monoclonal antibody they found in older people when they gave them the monoclonal antibody that muscle mass increased in these people just like they had hoped,” said Heymsfield.

Heymsfield says people who are not elderly can also lose muscle mass. “Muscle loss occurs when you go on a diet not only do you lose body fat, but you lose muscle mass,” he said.

And now scientists say the drug helps obese people with diabetes shed pounds.

“And so, when you give this monoclonal antibody, it increases muscle mass, and what they discovered along the way it also decreases fat mass,” said Heymsfield.

He was asked if the discovery was made by coincidence.

“Yes, Yes, it’s called serendipity,” Heymsfield stated.

Pennington says participants who got infusions of the drug lost 21 percent of total body fat.

Franklin says he lost pounds while participating in the clinical trial.

“I lost 12 pounds during the study, and I haven’t gained it back,” he said.

Obesity is a serious problem. According to the CDC, the U.S. has an adult obesity rate of 42.4%.

“The finding that the drug can cause fat loss and an increase in muscle is really unprecedented other than testosterone, I’m sure you know what that is, the male hormone. That does it but testosterone is not very safe to use to build muscle,” said Heymsfield.

The results of the 48-week clinical trial were published in the journal Jama Network Open.

The study looked at the drug’s effect on obese and overweight people who have Type 2 diabetes. Participants went in once a month for the antibody infusion.

“As a scientist, I’m very stimulated by this drug that was developed for muscle loss, turns out to be one of the most powerful drugs for producing fat loss,” said Heymsfield.

Dr. Gabriel Uwaifo is an internist and endocrinologist at Ochsner Health.

“Obesity is the primary driver of diabetes onset,” said Uwaifo.

And he agrees obesity is widespread.

“We call it the obesity epidemic because that is what it is,” Uwaifo.

He said having too much body fat can put people at risk of developing diabetes.

“Yes, yes. When we say obesity, in lay terms, people think of the number on the scale. But what we’re actually talking about is excess adiposity or excess fat tissue,” Uwaifo stated.

Franklin says he has lost more than the initial 12 pounds. He said he is also eating differently.

“I’ve lost 26 pounds by now. I feel better, my hips don’t hurt, my knees don’t hurt,” said Franklin.

Uwaifo says the results of the study are attention-grabbing.

“Medication like this that selectively targets fat mass and actually helps people gain some muscle, that is unique,” he said.

Heymsfield if the study uncovered drawbacks to the drug.

“We found the drug was very safe and very well tolerated, some people had muscle aches, so a little bit of that as you might expect since it’s acting on muscle,” he said.

Muscle burns more calories than body fat.

“Muscle is metabolically quite active,” said Uwaifo.

And Pennington’s researchers say preventing muscle loss is an important goal of obesity treatments.

Heymsfield said a third phase of the study is planned.

“I’m very optimistic, we have to see eventually how safe it is in large numbers of people,” he said.

Uwaifo believes more study of the drug is needed, in terms of its use for obese and overweight people with diabetes.

“As exciting as the findings are, these, this is a Phase 2 study, so what it essentially tells us is okay there’s most likely a signal here. We need to better understand what it is,” he said.

“The drug has already been used in thousands of people because of its earlier work on muscle loss like muscular dystrophy,” said Heymsfield.

Franklin said it would be great to have the drug ultimately approved by the FDA. “Oh, that would be wonderful. That would be the answer to everybody’s, hopefully, their weight problems because most of the people who have Type 2 diabetes are overweight,” he said.

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