Future Ozempic Alternative Could "Minimize Side Effects," Researchers Say
It's a capsule rather than an injection, and it still produces impressive weight-loss results.
Ozempic, which is manufactured by Novo Nordisk and indicated for the treatment of type 2 diabetes—along with its sister drug, Wegovy, indicated for weight loss—has helped patients drop dramatic amounts of weight. But despite their impressive results, these medications aren't risk-free, as they're sometimes known to cause painful side effects. The most commonly experienced symptoms associated with semaglutide (the active ingredient in both Ozempic and Wegovy) injection are gastrointestinal, with some patients experiencing severe enough symptoms to discontinue treatment. However, an Ozempic alternative is in development, and researchers say it could "minimize side effects" associated with other weight-loss treatments.
Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed an ingestible capsule that plays on a "phenomenon" your body uses to tell you you're full after eating a large meal, per an MIT press release.
Your stomach naturally sends signals to your brain to let it know you can stop eating, but the new pill—formally known as the Vibrating Ingestible BioElectronic Stimulator (VIBES)—recreates this feeling by vibrating in your stomach and activating the same stretch receptors that sense when your belly is distended. In doing so, you get an "illusory sense of fullness," the release states.
"For somebody who wants to lose weight or control their appetite, it could be taken before each meal," Shriya Srinivasan, PhD, former MIT graduate student and postdoc, and current assistant professor of bioengineering at Harvard University, said in the press release.
Per the release, when given to pigs 20 minutes before eating, the pill promoted the release of hormones that signal fullness—and also reduced the animals' food intake by 40 percent. According to the official study published in Science Advances on Dec. 22, animals also had a minimized weight gain rate when compared with animals that didn't take the VIBES pill.
The pill has to be "activated" in the stomach to start vibrating, which it does for about 3o minutes after it reaches the stomach. In the new study, the pill passed through animals' digestive tracts within four to five days—and during that time, researchers noted that animals showed no signs of "obstruction, perforation, or other negative impacts." Researchers also noted that, when observed in over 20 trials in a large animal model, VIBES didn't produce any "observable distress or negative side effects."
"[VIBES] could be really interesting in that it would provide an option that could minimize the side effects that we see with the other pharmacological treatments out there," Srinivasan said in the release.
Researchers believe VIBES could offer a viable option for those who've struggled with side effects related to semaglutide injection or tirzepatide (known by Eli Lilly's brand names Mounjaro and Zepbound). Some have reported painful stomach conditions like gastroparesis, as well as gallbladder-related issues, which have also landed patients in the emergency room.
However, in addition to reducing side effects, the novel capsule could increase access to weight-loss drugs by providing a more affordable option, researchers said. GLP-1 agonists, like semaglutide, can be particularly expensive, they added.
"For a lot of populations, some of the more effective therapies for obesity are very costly. At scale, our device could be manufactured at a pretty cost-effective price point," Srinivasan said in the release. "I'd love to see how this would transform care and therapy for people in global health settings who may not have access to some of the more sophisticated or expensive options that are available today."
In the press release, researchers said they have plans to investigate how to adapt the pill to stay in the stomach for longer than the current 30-minute period, and then be wirelessly turned off and on. They are planning new ways to "scale up" manufacturing, which could enable clinical trials in humans.
"Such studies would be important to learn more about the devices' safety, as well as determine the best time to swallow the capsule before … a meal and how often it would need to be administered," the release reads.
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