11:33pm Monday 11 December 2017

Diabetes drug could be used to combat fatty liver disease, research shows

The researchers from the University of Birmingham believe that the findings present the possibility of new therapies for patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, for which there is no current licensed treatment.

The trial was the first of its type to look into the action of liraglutide in the treatment of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.

The trial demonstrated that 48 weeks of treatment with liraglutide resulted in 4 out of 10 patients clearing evidence of NASH from their livers. This was much higher than the effect seen in patients receiving placebo (1 in 10) and met the pre-specified primary end-point. 

Additionally, patients in the active treatment group showed a higher level of weight loss (over 5 kg) whilst receiving medication.

Liraglutide is manufactured and licenced by Novo Nordisk and is currently licenced for the treatment of Type II diabetes. It is administered in the form of an injection which the patient self-injects, which means the treatment could be administered at home.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) describes a wide range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat within the liver cells, usually seen in people who are overweight or obese. It is the most common liver disorder in developed countries – affecting approximately 20% of the United States population and 25-30% of people in the UK.

Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is the more serious form of NAFLD and can ultimately increase the risk of total liver failure which means a transplant is required, but if one is not found, it will lead to death.  It is often considered to be something of a ‘silent killer’ because most people feel well, unaware that they have a liver problem, until the disease is at an advanced stage.

The trial was led by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Birmingham Liver Biomedical Research Unit (BRU) in conjunction with the Wellcome Trust and Novo Nordisk and other sites at universities in Nottingham, Hull and Leeds.

Professor Philip Newsome, the lead investigator from the University of Birmingham, explained, “Because there are no licensed treatments available for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, there is a large unmet clinical need. It is becoming ever more important that we find a treatment as the occurrence of fatty liver disease continues to grow – hand in hand with the problem of obesity. This study provides confidence in the further exploration of this class of drugs in NASH.”

Notes for editors

For interview requests, a copy of the full paper or for more information, please contact Luke Harrison, Media Relations Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0)121 414 5134.

For out of hours media enquiries, please call: +44 (0) 7789 921 165

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (www.nihr.ac.uk).


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