Bullet Train

Is Obesity Treatment Innovation Gaining Momentum?

We confess. Good news about obesity treatment innovation brings a smile here. The options right now are OK, but limited. So new options are especially welcome. This week brought news of progress on two fronts.

DNA-PK: A New Drug Target for Mid-Life Obesity

NIH researchers this week published their discovery of a critical role for the DNA-PK enzyme in mid-life obesity. It’s animal data that’s a long way from hitting the clinic, of course. But they found that this enzyme is one of the drivers of the decline in metabolism and fitness that happens as we age. When they blocked it in mice, they prevented obesity, type 2 diabetes, and declining exercise capacity.

Much can happen on the way to translating this discovery into a meaningful therapy. It can easily reach a dead end. But NIH scientists are clearly excited. Senior author Jay Chung said:

Our studies indicate that DNA-PK is one of the drivers of the metabolic and fitness decline that occurs during aging, which makes staying lean and physically fit difficult and increases susceptibility to metabolic diseases like diabetes.

The study opens the door to the development of a new type of weight-loss medication that could work by inhibiting DNA-PK activity.

A New Triple Agonist Enters Clinical Trials

The second bit of good news slipped in quietly when Novo Nordisk announced first quarter business results. Their triple agonist for obesity treatment – NN9423 – entered phase I clinical trials. It may not seem like a big deal. After all, phase I is just the start of studying this new drug in humans. More often than not, new drugs in phase I won’t make it to approval.

But, the possibilities for an agonist that targets GLP-1, GIP, and glucagon receptors are quite tantalizing. When first describing this in 2015, Brian Finan et al wrote in Nature Medicine:

These preclinical studies suggest that, so far, this unimolecular, polypharmaceutical strategy has potential to be the most effective pharmacological approach to reversing obesity and related metabolic disorders.

“Reversing obesity” is definitely a possibility that raises high hopes.

These are early days for obesity treatment innovation. But NN9423 brings the number of new drugs in clinical development for obesity at Novo Nordisk to seven. We hope Novo succeeds and compels the competitors to match this level of innovation.

Maybe obesity treatment innovation really is gaining momentum.

For more on DNA-PK and obesity, click here for the paper, here for reporting from NIH, and here for reporting from Medical News Today. Click here and here for more about the potential of triple agonist therapy.

Bullet Train, photograph © Ville Misaki / flickr

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May 5, 2017