Mubadala Health partner’s research into semaglutide offers hope for region’s
patients living with obesity as results announced at British conference mirror those found elsewhere, despite demographic and dietary differences

Dr Matthew Allum

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Experts from Mubadala Health’s Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICDLC) have announced the first real-world study results available for the Middle East regarding the weight-loss applications of semaglutide. The drug was originally approved for type 2 diabetes, but is also used to treat obesity, which is now recognized as a chronic, progressive disease by the World Health Organization.

Presented last week at the Society for Endocrinology’s BES conference in the UK and published in Endocrine Abstracts journal, the retrospective study of 289 patients taking the semaglutide weekly injection for six months saw a median reduction of 3 per cent in body mass index, which is consistent with existing clinical trial data from other countries.

Principal investigator for the study, ICLDC consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist Dr Matthew Allum, says that the results bode well for patients with obesity in the UAE and region. “While this might seem modest weight loss on the surface, we must remember that the drug was administered to these patients at a lower dose to treat their diabetes. We can then extrapolate from these results and expect that a higher dose will also match the outcomes from clinical studies of patients living with obesity. However, it will be necessary to conduct more research with broader scope and larger groups of diabetes patients with obesity to confirm the initial results of the study.”

In an international 68-week clinical trial that concluded last year, participants lost on average 15 per cent of their total body weight when using the drug at the higher dose. In June this year, the US Food and Drug Association approved semaglutide as a weight-management drug in adults with certain comorbidities when used in conjunction with a reduced calorie diet and increased physical activity.

Commenting on the importance of the ICLDC study, Dr Allum says: “We were keen to add to existing data on the potential efficacy of the drug in treating obesity, and to especially test it among our UAE population, with its own specific lifestyle factors and high prevalence of obesity. Clinical trials have been very encouraging, but published real-world data have been scarce and there were none from the Middle East. Real-world data are important as patients in clinical studies are highly motivated and monitored, so we need to back these findings up with studies of patients in their natural environments.”

Explaining how the drug enables weight loss, Dr Allum said: “Semaglutide is an analogue of GLP1 – a type of hormone our body makes naturally and secretes after a meal. GLP1 stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas, which is how it helps people with type 2 diabetes reduce their blood sugar levels. However, it also sends a signal to your brain to say the stomach is full, and slows down the emptying of your stomach. So, in basic terms, it reduces your appetite and helps you eat less, leading to weight loss.”

He adds that the drug could be a game-changer globally in that its results in clinical trials are  more than twice as good as preceding obesity medications, including other GLP1 analogues, and importantly, it is generally well tolerated with few side effects. The drug can be used safely to treat people without diabetes as it has been shown not to significantly reduce blood sugar levels in these patients, he says.

The ICLDC team also noted significant improvements in the study participants’ LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Dr Allum says that improvement in blood sugar levels among the group was modest, but this can be partially explained by the fact that some of the ICLDC patients already had their diabetes under control.

An interesting finding was that women in the study population lost more weight than men, but the reasons for this would need further research to be verified and understood, says Dr Allum. 

The ICLDC research team also included Dr Allum’s ICLDC colleagues, Drs Adam Buckley, Nader Lessan, Nagi Mohammed, Mohamed Suliman, Sara Suliman and Mohgah Elsheikh. The team retrospectively gathered data on 289 patients with a median age of 50 years, with 36% female, 87% Emirati and 8% of other Arab ethnicity, all of whom took continuous once weekly semaglutide injections for six months.

Semaglutide was made available in the UAE in 2020 as a weekly injection that helps patients with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar.

About Mubadala Health:

Mubadala Health is the integrated healthcare network of Mubadala Investment Company. Established in 2021, Mubadala Health operates, manages, and develops a portfolio of healthcare assets including: Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Healthpoint, Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICLDC), Amana Healthcare, National Reference Laboratory (NRL), Capital Health Screening Centre (CHSC), Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre (ADTC), Danat Al Emarat, HealthPlus Diabetes & Endocrinology Center, HealthPlus Family Clinics, HealthPlus Fertility, HealthPlus Women’s Health Center, Moorfields Eye Hospital Abu Dhabi, and a stake in Al Meswak Dental Clinics Group. With a vision to transform the regional healthcare landscape, Mubadala Health sets a new benchmark for the UAE and regional healthcare industry through its state-of-the-art facilities and world-class caregivers who strive to put patients first across its continuum of care. Innovation, research, and education are the foundational pillars of Mubadala Health, supporting the further development of a sustainable healthcare sector in line with the vision of Abu Dhabi and the region.

Mubadala Health is on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn with the handle: @mubadalahealth.

About Imperial College London Diabetes Centre:

Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICLDC), a Mubadala Health partner, is a state-of-the-art outpatient facility that specialises in diabetes treatment, research, training and public health awareness. In just over a decade, the Centre has gained international renown for its holistic approach to the treatment of diabetes and related complications that enables patients to receive the full spectrum of care they need in one place.

With more than 80 diabetes professionals and endocrinologists under one roof, ICLDC offers best-in-class medical attention from first diagnosis to disease management across 11 specialist practice areas including adult and paediatric endocrinology, treatment of metabolic and electrolyte disorders, pre- and post-bariatric surgery care, heart disease prevention, nutritional advice, diabetes education services, ophthalmology, nephrology and podiatry.

ICLDC was established in 2006 in Abu Dhabi by Mubadala in partnership with the UK’s Imperial College London to address the growing demand for diabetes care in the UAE. The centre now operates three branches across Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, touching the lives of more than one million people through patient-centric programmes and public health initiatives. In 2007, ICLDC launched Diabetes. Knowledge. Action, now the longest running public health awareness campaign in the country. The initiative promotes an active lifestyle through an ongoing calendar of events for the whole community – Major activations include an annual walkathon that coincides with the World Diabetes Day in November.