A new weight loss jab is twice as effective as its rivals in helping some dieters shed the pounds, new research suggests.
Scientists found that the treatment tirzepatide - currently licensed for diabetes - could yield even better results than the latest class of injections being offered on the NHS.
A study of 18,000 people found those given the medication lost almost a stone more than those given semaglutide, also known as Wegovy, when the treatment was administered for at least three months.
Ministers are keen to see widespread rollout of such drugs, in an effort to combat Britain’s obesity epidemic, with two in three adults overweight or obese and costs the NHS £6.5 billion per year.
Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, said on Friday the drugs had “real potential” to improve the lives of thousands of people - and bring down the multi-billion costs of obesity to the NHS.
Both types of medication regulate appetite, helping people to feel full more quickly and making them want to eat less. But experts said tirzepatide appears to have an extra effect of altering the body’s metabolism, which is not fully understood.
Overall, those given the highest dose of tirzepatide lost an average of 24lbs over three months, while those on the highest dose of semaglutide lost almost 12lbs, research involving Oxford University found.
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, has said giving such drugs to far more patients could be a “game-changer” in tackling obesity - and the health conditions it fuels.
Pilot schemes are now looking at whether GPs could prescribe the injections, with Treasury interest in whether their use could boost productivity and cut the benefits bill, as well as the cost of obesity to the NHS.
Earlier this month Wegovy was made available on the NHS to a “limited” number of people, after being given the green light for the NHS. The health service plans to offer injections to 50,000 people through specialist clinics.
Manufacturer Novo Nordisk has been unable to meet global demand for semaglutide, after trials found those taking it lost on average 15 per cent of their body weight after a year.
Semaglutide is also sold under the name Ozempic for treatment of type 2 diabetes.
The new study, which compared both drugs in diabetes patients, found that tirzepatide appeared to be significantly more effective - both for weight loss and for control of blood sugar, one of the main aims in treatment of the disease.
Mr Barclay said: “These new weight loss drugs have real potential to improve the lives of thousands of people living with obesity, when used alongside diet and changes to lifestyle.
“Obesity is the second most common cause of cancer behind smoking and costs the NHS billions each year, which is why we’re taking action to tackle it and reduce pressure on the health service.
“Our £40 million pilots will be looking at ways to make the newest approved weight loss medicines available to as many people as possible – including via GPs and using community and digital services – giving people access to the care they need, where they need it.”
Tirzepatide is currently only licensed for treatment of diabetes, under the name Mounjaro, but manufacturer Eli Lilly is seeking approval for the drug to be used as a treatment for weight loss as well.
A decision from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is expected within months, with the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) due to make a decision next March on its rollout on the NHS.
Findings ‘nothing but dramatic’
Earlier this month, Nice backed the drug’s use as a diabetes treatment, after a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found 51 per cent of those taking the drug lowered their blood sugar levels to a threshold seen in those without diabetes.
Among those taking semaglutide, the figure was 20 per cent.
In the latest research, experts from Oxford University and the University of Thessaloniki examined 22 studies which all involved people with type 2 diabetes, with an average weight of around 14 stone.
The findings were released ahead of the Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes meeting in Hamburg at the start of next month.
While two of the trials compared the two drugs directly, the rest compared either semaglutide or tirzepatide with a common comparator, such as a placebo or another treatment to produce indirect comparisons.
Both drugs have been found to help with other health conditions, including heart failure.
Last month a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress found semaglutide could reverse symptoms of heart failure, while research has found that tirzepatide can reduce blood pressure.
Lead researcher Dr Thomas Karagiannism, from the University of Thessaloniki in Greece, said other trials are examining the impact of semaglutide on the weight of patients without type 2 diabetes.
He said the results of the trials in people with type 2 diabetes were “impressive,” with studies of those without the condition also showing positive results.
Prof Jason Halford, President of the European Association for the Study of Obesity, said: “The data from these trials is very strong. There are a lot of companies working on different types of injections and these jabs are likely to get better and better.”
“We’re looking at a new generation of pharmacotherapy for obesity and, as more of these drugs come on line, I think they are going to have a significant impact on health in this country,” he said.
Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said: “These research results are nothing but dramatic and it will be tragic if Mounjaro has the same supply problems as Ozempic and Wegovy.”