Regulators Debunk Link Between Suicide and Weight Loss Drugs

by Denis Storey
April 15, 2024 at 12:38 PM UTC

European and American regulators found no evidence linking GLP-1 receptor agonists like Ozempic and Wegovy to thoughts of suicide.

Clinical relevance: GLP-1 receptor agonists, used for weight loss, faced concerns about long-term side effects like suicide.

  • The latest investigation, by the European Medicines Agency, found no link between drugs like Ozempic and suicidal behavior.
  • Sales of GLP-1 receptor agents continue to rise, with projections exceeding $100 billion globally by 2029.
  • U.S. studies support the EMAs findings, indicating a lower risk of suicidal thoughts with drugs like semaglutide.

Despite the runaway success of this new generation of weight-loss medication, glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists, a growing number of regulators have grown increasingly concerned about long-term side effects, such as suicide.

But the latest investigation into these drugs uncovered no link between drugs such as Mounjaro, Ozempic, and Wegovy, and suicidal thoughts and actions.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced this month that “the available evidence does not support a causal association between the GLP-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1) – dulaglutide, exenatide, liraglutide, lixisenatide and semaglutide – and suicidal and self-injurious thoughts and actions.”

A Runaway Success

GLP-1 receptor agents, originally designed, produced, and marketed as Type 2 diabetes drugs, have found new life as effective weight management treatments in overweight patients. They work by encouraging insulin production and regulating the body’s glucose levels. They also curb the appetite and slow down gastric evacuation.

Their efficacy has powered sales so much that they’re poised to overtake the market’s legacy pacesetters,  PD-1 antagonists, such as Keytruda and Opdivo.

“GLP1 antagonist sales in 2023 showcase a more diversified landscape, with therapeutics such as Ozempic, Trulicity, and Mounjaro driving 71% of the sales,” GlobalData pharmaceutical analyst Kevin Marcaida explained.

The London data consultants predict that GLP-1 sales will exceed 19 percent annual growth annually for at least the next half-decade, surpassing $100 billion in global sales by 2029.

EMA Finds No Suicide Link

The EU regulators spent more than six months looking into reports of GLP-1 patients struggling with suicidal thoughts.

“The review started in July 2023, following case reports of suicidal thoughts and thoughts of self-injury from people using liraglutide and semaglutide medicines,” the regulators reported, “and in November 2023 the committee requested additional data from the marketing authorization holders for these medicines, namely Ozempic, Rybelsus, Wegovy, Victoza, Saxenda, Xultophy, Byetta, Bydureon, Lyxumia, Suliqua and Trulicity.”

The agency also combed through two other studies, based on electronic health records, that failed to identify a causal link between the drugs and increased suicide risk.

As a result, EMA concluded that “After reviewing the available evidence from non-clinical studies, clinical trials, post-marketing surveillance data and the available studies the PRAC considers that no update to the product information is warranted.”

Mounting Evidence

The EU agency’s report backs up a pair of U.S. studies that also looked into these drugs.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) preliminary review that “​​has not found evidence that use of these medicines causes suicidal thoughts or actions.”

Nevertheless, U.S. regulators hedged their bets, adding that “a small risk may exist.” They added that they’ll continue to investigate any future reports.

Finally, another federally funded study, spearheaded by the National Institute of Health and Case Western Reserve University, found that patients taking semaglutide boasted “a lower risk of first-time or recurring suicidal thoughts” than those taking another drug for those conditions over a six-month period.

Further Reading

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