June 2024

Ozempic is no wonder drug

Friday-weekend blog

Ideally you should read my previous (Wednesday-Thursday) blog to get the context for today’s piece. In my Wednesday-Thursday blog I tried to explain how pharma companies, aided and abetted by (IMHO) useless poodle supposed ‘science journalists’ used the concept of ‘relative risk’ to convince us of the effectiveness of new drugs and the concept of ‘absolute risk’ to downplay side effects.

I haven’t yet found the original study results which prompted Ozempic maker, Novo Nordisk, and virtually every mainstream media to claim that Ozempic reduced the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 20%. But I have found a few figures which cast a bit of light on this 20% claim.

The study was sponsored by Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Ozempic and Wegovy and titled: Semaglutide Effects on Heart Disease and Stroke in Patients With Overweight or Obesity.

Half the 17,000+ participants were given a semaglutide medicine and half a placebo. The participants had to use an injection pen to inject the study medicine in a skinfold once a week for up to five years and undergo up to 25 medical examinations including blood tests. I don’t know about you, but if I was invited to take part in testing a new supposed medicine which required me to inject myself once a week for between 2.5 and 5 years and give loads of blood to be tested so that a Big Pharma company could make billions for itself, I’d politely tell the company where they could put their injections. So I wonder what kind of people would participate. I suspect that the nature of the study would put off a lot of people and thus bias the kind of people who did agree to participate to those who already had serious weight and thus health problems.

A primary cardiovascular end-point event (heart attack or stroke) occurred in 569 of the 8,803 patients (6.5%) in the semaglutide group and in 701 of the 8,801 patients (8.0%) in the placebo group. That gives you the 20% reduced risk of a heart attack or stroke. This 20% reduction is what’s called the ‘relative risk’. That sounds amazing and you’d think ‘wow, Novo Nordisk’s wonder drug will cut the number of heart attacks and strokes by 20%!’

But we could also look at what’s called the ‘absolute risk’. If there were 132 (701-569) fewer heart attacks or strokes in the semaglutide group than in the placebo group on a participant population of 8,803 getting the active drug – that’s an ‘absolute risk’ reduction of less than about 1.5% if I’ve got my figures right. So, taking the Novo Nordisk ‘miracle drug’ results in between one and two fewer heart attacks and/or strokes per hundred obese people at risk. And given the unpleasant nature of the study – weekly self-injections plus up to 25 medical controls including blood tests – I imagine the participants would be those who are more seriously ill in the first place. So, for every hundred obese people given the Novo Nordisk ‘wonder drug’, there would be about one less heart attack and/or stroke. That sounds rather less impressive than “a 20% reduction in heart attacks and strokes” claimed by Novo Nordisk and its tame, scientifically-challenged journalists.

Dr Google tells us that as of May 2024, gastrointestinal disorders were the most common Ozempic side effects reported to the FDA. Nausea was the most common side effect reported, followed by constipation second and diarrhea third. Rarer but more serious side effects include stomach paralysis, gallbladder issues, gallstones, pancreatitis and thyroid cancer. I haven’t seen the figures for the frequency of these side effects. But if we look at the results of the Novo Nordisk study we find that the dropout rate was 8.2% for those receiving the placebo compared to16.6% of those given the active drug. So about 720 participants in the placebo group gave up compared to around 1,460 in the treatment group. We can assume that the side effects were so bad that about 740 participants (1,460-720) couldn’t continue. So the incidence of severe side effects (740) far outweighed the number of heart attacks or strokes (132) the semaglutide allegedly prevented. This doesn’t, of course, mean that the semaglutides don’t reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by about one person per hundred taking a semaglutide like Ozempic or Wegovy. But it is unfortunate that when breathlessly hyperventilating about the supposed benefits of these drugs, most ‘science journalists’ seem to have forgotten to mention the rather unpleasant side effects.

A cynic might even be tempted to suspect that many ‘science journalists’ are merely propagandists for the Big Pharma industry.

2 comments to Ozempic is no wonder drug

  • A Thorpe

    You don’t mention how successful the drug is for weight loss, but if it needs 5 years of injections surely a bit of dietary discipline is preferable. The other factor is that if the placebo group were also overweight at the start and did nothing to reduce their weight then wouldn’t their health cause problems that should be taken into account? Shouldn’t there be concern about drugs designed for one purpose being offered to treat something else which is what you seemed to imply with quotes in the previous post, especially if there is no need for the primary purpose of the drug.

  • Ed P

    Weight loss is easily achieved with dietary changes – despite common beliefs, it’s carbohydrates which lay down fatty tissue, whereas a low-carb diet with increased fat intake switches the body to burning fat for energy, also reducing fat deposits made previously by the carbs.
    No need for medicines, or big Pharma’s profits from potentially-dangerous drugs, just sensible eating without bread, pasta, sugar or beer.

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