Could Ozempic have a protective effect against cancer?

Ozempic box

A US study suggests Novo Nordisk’s GLP-1 receptor agonist Ozempic (semaglutide), which is approved as a treatment for diabetes and weight loss (as Wegovy), could reduce the risk of cancer.

Ozempic has been in the spotlight recently following study data proving that patients taking it had a 20% lower risk of heart attack.

Although there were originally concerns that use of the drug might increase the risk of cancer, several recent studies have proved that those concerns are unfounded.

In April 2024, a Scandinavian cohort study demonstrated that GLP1 receptor agonist use was not associated with a substantially increased risk of thyroid cancer up to 3.9 years1.

In another 2024 study in Israel, researchers conducted a historical cohort study of adults with type 2 diabetes and found no support for an increased pancreatic cancer incidence over seven years2.

In another review of 37 clinical trials and 19 real-world studies to evaluate the occurrence of pancreatic and thyroid cancers, semaglutide was not associated with an increased risk of any types of cancer3.

One US study has gone further, however, and suggested use of semaglutide actually reduces the risk of cancer independent of weight loss.

In this cohort study, GLP-1RAs were associated with reduced colorectal cancer (CRC) risk in drug-naive patients with type 2 diabetes with and without obesity/overweight4. The authors say the results “suggest a potential protective effect against CRC partially mediated by weight loss and other mechanisms not related to weight loss”.

Other indications for Ozempic

There is hope that Ozempic could treat a whole range of other conditions, including addiction and dementia. Research at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden investigated Ozempic as a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD). The data demonstrated that “in male and female rats, acute and repeated semaglutide administration reduced alcohol intake and prevented relapse-like drinking”.

Meanwhile, a Danish study showed that the dementia rate was lower in patients taking GLP-1 RAs and concluded that they “may provide a new opportunity to reduce the incidence of dementia in patients with type 2 diabetes”.

Novo Nordisk is currently funding three trials to assess Ozempic in Alzheimer’s disease, including one into the effect of semaglutide on the rate of accumulation of tau protein in the brain.

Elsewhere, the drug is also under investigation in various other clinical trials, for example, as a treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome at the University of Hull, and to understand its impact on ageing at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Diana Spencer, Senior Digital Content Editor, DDW

References

  1. Pasternak B, Wintzell V, Hviid A, et al. Glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonist use and risk of thyroid cancer: Scandinavian cohort study. BMJ 2024;385:e078225.
  2. Dankner R, Murad H, Agay N, et al. Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor Agonists and Pancreatic Cancer Risk in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes. JAMA Netw Open 2024;7(1):e2350408.
  3. Nagendra L, Bg H, Sharma M, Dutta D. Semaglutide and cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Metab Syndr 2023;17(9):102834.
  4. Wang L, Wang W, Kaelber DC, et al. GLP-1 Receptor Agonists and Colorectal Cancer Risk in Drug-Naive Patients With Type 2 Diabetes, With and Without Overweight/Obesity. JAMA Oncol 2024;10(2):256–258.

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