Weight Loss Drugs May Reduce Risks of MS, Study Says

Drugs that are currently approved to treat type 2 diabetes and obesity are also associated with a reduced risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new study based on real-world data.

Anti-diabetic, weight loss-inducing drugs — which continue to grow in popularity — may also work to reduce the risk of MS, and researchers suggest these drugs may be able to be repurposed for this use.

The connection between obesity medications and a lower risk of MS is demonstrated in a new study published in Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders, which used real-world reports from the Food and Drug Administration’s Adverse Event Reporting System database (FAERS).

The researchers found that GLP-1 receptor agonists, particularly medicines including semaglutide (the active ingredient in Ozempic), dulaglutide, and liraglutide that work by lowering blood sugar levels, showed serious potential to reduce MS risks.

“Recently, drug repurposing, defined as researching new indications for already approved drugs, is gaining attention as a rapid and cost-efficient strategy for developing new treatments,” the authors wrote. They added that the FAERS database serves not only as a resource for mining adverse drug reactions and safety signals but also for identifying inverse associations and potential medication repurposing opportunities.

The researchers analyzed data from FAERS and found an inverse association between MS and anti-diabetic weight loss-inducing drugs, including semaglutide, dulaglutide, and liraglutide (GLP-1 receptor agonists), empagliflozin (SGLT-2 inhibitor), and metformin (biguanide).

Specifically, semaglutide was found to lower the chances of developing MS the most — with a reduced risk of 76.2% — followed by dulaglutide (83.5%), liraglutide (83.9%), empagliflozin (76.6%), and metformin (61.3%). Naltrexone, the only non-anti-diabetic medication that had this effect, reduced the risk of MS by 44.4%.

Other weight loss-inducing drugs included in the study, which are non-anti-diabetic medications and were not found to reduce the risk of MS, include phentermine, bupropio, topiramate, zonisamide, and amphetamine.

Though the precise biological mechanisms linking MS and obesity remain elusive, according to the study, obesity is believed to share inflammatory components with MS. Several studies have demonstrated that early childhood or adolescent obesity increases the risk of MS, and obesity is also a disease modifier in MS, leading to more severe disease, poorer outcomes, and a less favorable response to disease-modifying therapies.

“Overall, this study hints at the possibility of considering anti-diabetic drugs with weight loss-inducing effects, especially GLP-1 receptor agonists, for potential repurposing opportunities in MS,” the authors wrote. “These findings should be validated through complementary methodologies and prospective studies.”

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