Conference Coverage

STEP TEENS: Semaglutide ‘gives hope’ to adolescents with obesity



Attendees at ObesityWeek® 2022 listened with much excitement to the results of the STEP TEENS phase 3 trial of once-weekly subcutaneous semaglutide 2.4 mg (Wegovy) in adolescents aged 12 up to 18 years old with obesity.

When a session panel member said that clinical trials of weight-loss medications for adolescents with obesity should henceforth stop using placebo controls – implying that comparison with the once-weekly injection semaglutide would be more informative – the audience applauded.

The results were also simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine to coincide with the presentation.

The research “gives hope” to adolescents with obesity, their parents, and their doctors, the trial’s principal investigator, Daniel Weghuber, MD, said in an interview.

“Many of them have been struggling for such a long time – both the parents and the kids themselves,” said Dr. Weghuber, from the department of pediatrics, Paracelsus Medical University, Salzburg, Austria.

“It’s not an issue of lack of willpower,” he stressed. “That’s a major misunderstanding.”

“This drug [semaglutide] seems to enable people who are living with obesity to adhere to the recommendations that they may have been following for years and years but were [still] not able to achieve their goal,” he said. It “enables people to achieve their goals.”

Asked about any potential negative impact on normal growth, Dr. Weghuber pointed out that the average weight of study participants was 107 kg (236 lb). “I’m really not afraid of a 15-year-old with 107 kg losing 10%, 15%, 20%” of their weight, he said. There was no indication of a problem regarding normal growth or development in the study.

The research showed that “there is the combination of lifestyle plus in the future anti-obesity medications that will open up a new chapter” for treating adolescents with obesity, he summarized.

Senior study author, Silva Arslanian, MD, who holds the Richard L. Day Endowed Chair in Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, agreed. “The results are amazing,” said Dr. Arslanian in a press release issued by the University of Pittsburgh. “For a person who is 5 foot, 5 inches tall and weighs 240 pounds, the average reduction in BMI equates to shedding about 40 pounds.”

‘Mind-blowing, awesome’ results

The session at ObesityWeek® 2022, the annual meeting of the Obesity Society, was chaired by Aaron S. Kelly, PhD, professor of pediatrics and codirector of the center for pediatric obesity medicine at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Dr. Kelly led the SCALE TEENS clinical trial of liraglutide (Saxenda), also a glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) agonist like semaglutide, for adolescents aged 12 up to 18 years with obesity, which assigned 125 participants to the daily injectable liraglutide group and 126 to the placebo group. SCALE TEENS was presented and published in May 2020, leading to the approval of liraglutide for obesity in this age group, in December 2020.

Dr. Kelly called on two experts who were not involved in the research to offer their comments, starting with Claudia K. Fox, MD, MPH.

“These results are mind-blowing,” said Dr. Fox, who is associate professor of pediatrics and codirector of the center for pediatric obesity medicine at the University of Minnesota.

“We are getting close to bariatric surgery results” in these adolescent patients with obesity, added Dr. Fox, who is an American Board of Obesity Medicine diplomate. To have 40% of patients attain normal weight, “that’s massive” and “life-changing,” she said. And improvement in quality of life is what families care most about. “I am super excited,” she commented.

Next, Dr. Kelly called on Sarah C. Armstrong, MD, director of the Duke Children’s Healthy Lifestyles Program, Duke University, Durham, N.C.

Dr. Armstrong is a member of the executive committee for the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Obesity and a coauthor of the upcoming clinical practice guidelines that are being published.

Looking at more than 16,000 abstracts at the meeting shows that “watchful waiting is not effective,” Dr. Armstrong said.


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