The Popular Weight Loss Drug That Also Fight Cancer

A popular drug that treats obesity may also help to destroy cancer cells.

A popular drug that treats obesity may also help to destroy cancer cells.

Glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) drugs such as Ozempic are best known for their weight loss effect and their capability of keeping blood sugar levels under control in people with type 2 diabetes.

Semaglutide, which is sold under the brand name Ozempic, is an anti-diabetic medication, but the medicine appears to have a notable weight loss effect when combined with intensive behavioural therapy (IBT) and a low-calorie diet.

A 68 week weight loss trial found that injection of 2.4 mg of semaglutide per week along with a low-calorie diet for the first 8 weeks and 30 sessions of IBT led to obese patients losing 16 percent of their weight.

Semaglutide can take over the regulating appetite system by mirroring the incretin hormone known as GLP-1 which reduces appetite and hunger.

Restoring cancer-killing cells

Past research has found that obese people are at a greater risk of developing cancer due to their weakened natural killer (NK) cells.

NK cells are part of the immune system with anticancer properties, but obesity reduces their ability of producing cytokines and killing cancer cells.

A study reveals that GLP-1 drugs can also rebuild the NK cells functionality and their capacity to target cancer cells in obese people.

It is estimated that over 1 billion people worldwide are obese, a major contributor to chronic diseases such type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

In addition, immune dysregulation in obese people is associated with severe outcomes following infections such as SARS-CoV-2 and influenza.

The research team wanted to know if GLP-1 analogue therapy would help restoration of NK cell function in humans as well as improving the metabolism.

For six months, 20 obese adults received semaglutide treatment once a week (the dosage was gradually increased up to 1 mg).

The results showed that the improvements in the cancer-killing effect of NK cells is independent of weight loss so it can be a useful drug for immunotherapy against cancer.

Mr Conor de Barra the study’s first author, said:

“People with obesity can develop a variety of health problems like type 2 diabetes, sleep apnoea and cancer.

These can have very negative impacts on their quality of life.

This research and other promising findings on improvements in cardiovascular health after GLP-1 therapy indicate its potential benefits in addition to weight-loss.”

Professor Donal O’Shea, study co-author, said:

“We are finally reaching the point where medical treatments for the disease of obesity are being shown to prevent the complications of having obesity.

The current findings represent very positive news for people living with obesity on GLP-1 therapy and suggest the benefits of this family of treatments may extend to a reduction in cancer risk.”

About the author

Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.


The study was published in the journal Obesity (De Barra et al., 2023).


Get FREE email updates to PsyBlog

Hello, and welcome to PsyBlog. Thanks for dropping by.

This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.

It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.

I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.

Get FREE email updates to PsyBlog. Join the mailing list.