New Research Shows Ozempic and Wegovy May Safeguard Kidney Health

11 June 2024 2192
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Type 2 diabetes and obesity treatments Ozempic and Wegovy may also be beneficial for patients suffering from chronic kidney disease (CKD), according to new studies. The active compound found in these drugs, semaglutide, could significantly lessen the risk of kidney and heart complications as well as mortality in type 2 diabetes and CKD patients.

These insights come from two recent studies showcased in May at the 61st European Renal Association (ERA) Congress held in Stockholm, Sweden. CKD patients have damaged kidneys that can lead to waste and fluid accumulation in the body. In its advanced stages, CKD could result in kidney failure and premature heart disease.

Experts suggest that the possible expansion of Ozempic and Wegovy's benefits could change the way physicians approach the treatment of severe kidney diseases, hence improving patients' life quality. A kidney specialist and researcher at the University of Arizona, Frank Brosius, gave his approval for these new treatments including semaglutide.

Semaglutide is also associated with its potential off-label benefits such as reduction in addiction and sleep apnea based on anecdotal evidence and preliminary studies. Researchers aimed to scrutinize how Ozempic and Wegovy might impact kidney health.

The first of the two studies was an essential clinical trial exhibited at the ERA Congress and published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The study involved 3,533 people with type 2 diabetes and CKD, Almost half took a weekly semaglutide injection while the other half received a placebo weekly.

After approximately three and a half years, researchers discovered that the cohort who took semaglutide had a 24% lower risk of a significant kidney disease event. Study author and dean of medicine at the University of New South Wales, Dr. Vlado Perkovic, stated that these findings could shape treatment strategies for individuals at high risk of diabetes-related complications.

In the second study, researchers analyzed data over three and a half years from a previous randomized trial involving about 17,600 people who were obese or overweight and suffered from cardiovascular disease. Half received a weekly semaglutide injection, while the remainder received a placebo. The researchers determined that 24% fewer people in the semaglutide cohort experienced kidney-related events and there was no increase in the risk of acute kidney injury.

Both studies acknowledged the limitation of a lack of diversity among participants, with the first study primarily consisting of white male participants. As CKD is significantly prevalent in Black and Indigenous communities, further research needs to focus on these populations.

People with CKD continue to lose kidney function over time, impairing the kidneys' ability to filter waste products from the blood. Complications from this include end-stage kidney disease, requiring dialysis or a transplant to survive. about one in three adults with type 2 diabetes also suffer from CKD as high blood sugar damage kidney blood vessels and nerves impairing their function.

But that’s where semaglutide comes in—in addition to helping people lose weight and improve their blood pressure, it also lowers blood sugar, which can avoid these negative effects for patients with diabetes.

“Semaglutide use has [also] been associated with improving cardiovascular outcomes, which is critically important in patients with chronic kidney disease who have a high prevalence of cardiovascular disease,” Aleksandra Kukla, MD, a transplant nephrologist at the Mayo Clinic, told Health.

However, semaglutide’s ability to lower blood sugar and help the heart may not totally explain the related kidney benefits—something else may be in play.

“It is unlikely that the blood sugar lowering effects of the medication are the sole or even major reason for its protective effects,” said Brosius. “There are multiple mechanisms by which this class of medication may protect the kidneys, but at this point, no one knows what the most important ones are.”

Though earlier research has suggested that Ozempic and Wegovy may be beneficial for kidney health, these new studies have confirmed that semaglutide could be a useful treatment particularly for people with both CKD and type 2 diabetes.

“I’m optimistic about the potential impact of these findings,” said Brosius. “For people with type 2 diabetes and CKD, Ozempic represents a potential first-in-class treatment for protecting kidney function in this high-risk population. This is a great step forward for people managing both of these chronic conditions.”

Drugmaker Novo Nordisk said it plans to apply for an expansion of Ozempic’s label in the U.S. sometime in 2024.

In terms of access, most insurance plans already cover Ozempic for type 2 diabetes. But it can have a hefty price tag, especially for those who are uninsured. Average monthly costs for Ozempic and Weogvy can range between $1,000 and $1,600, depending on the pharmacy.

“It is critically important that this population with a high risk for adverse outcomes is able to receive medications such as semaglutide to improve outcomes,” said Kukla. “We are very excited to see more options for our patients. These and similar medications will improve overall health and prolong survival of our patients.”