Experimental weight loss drug could help treat fatty liver disease in people with obesity, study finds

The experimental weight loss drug retatrutide could also help to improve liver health, a new study suggests.

The findings came from a large clinical trial led by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), which included obese participants with fatty liver disease.

Researchers found that the injectable drug decreased fat in people’s livers to the point that they would no longer be classified as having fatty liver disease, according to study lead Dr. Arun Sanyal, M.D., a hepatologist who is director of the VCU Stravitz-Sanyal Institute for Liver Disease and Metabolic Health. 

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The findings were shared on Nov. 13 at a meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Boston.

“The implications of this trial are [that] we could wipe out the fat very early in the course of this disease before it becomes a real threat to the liver, and potentially reduce the long-term cardiac, metabolic, renal and liver-related harm from obesity,” Sanyal said in a news release.

The experimental weight loss drug retatrutide could also help to improve liver health, a new study suggests. (iStock)

“We are encouraged by these results and how they can potentially help tackle a disease that is currently without any approved therapies.”

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Dr. Douglas Dieterich, director of the Institute of Liver Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System Icahn School of Medicine in New York, was not affiliated with this study but commented on the findings.

“This is good news,” Dieterich told Fox News Digital, noting that when people lose weight, they typically lose fat in and around the liver.

This not only helps the liver function better, but also aids in cardiovascular and metabolic processes, he said.

GLASGOW, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 10: An overweight person walks through Glasgow city centre on October 10, 2006 in Glasgow, Scotland. According to government health maps published today, people in the north of England lead less healthy lifestyles compared to those in the south. The United Kingdom is also the fattest country in Europe, according to a new study of obesity rates to be released today. The "Health Profile of England" report, compiled from government data, said some 24 percent of people in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are obese. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

An estimated 80 to 100 million people in the U.S. have fatty liver disease and may not be aware of it, according to the American Liver Foundation (ALF).  (Getty Images)

The research findings suggest that retatrutide may be a future therapy for at-risk patients and could possibly prevent progression of liver disease or help reverse it, noted Sanyal, who has also served as a consultant to the drug’s manufacturer Eli Lilly and Co., in the VCU news release.

What to know about fatty liver disease

An estimated 80 to 100 million people in the U.S. have fatty liver disease and may not be aware of it, according to the American Liver Foundation (ALF). 

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) — also sometimes called metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease, or MASLD — affects up to 75% of overweight people and up to 90% of those considered severely obese.  

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The condition occurs when excess fat builds up in the liver, which can potentially lead to liver failure and liver cancer, the foundation said on its website. 

Risk factors for this disease include being overweight or obese or having type 2 diabetes

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is not caused by heavy alcohol use.

A patient is classified as having NAFLD when fat accounts for 5% or more of the liver’s weight and the individual has at least one of five cardio-metabolic risk factors, such as diabetes, stroke or heart attack, the VCU report stated.

Retatrutide controls hunger by targeting certain receptors in the body that are involved with feelings of satiety and hunger. 

This also helps to regulate blood sugar levels and aids in weight loss, the researchers explained in the VCU report.

Drug showed ‘dramatic’ results

Led by Sanyal, a team of investigators analyzed a subgroup of participants who were part of a larger Phase 2 clinical trial that explored the drug’s treatment of obesity

Liver anatomy

Researchers found that the drug decreased fat in an individual’s liver to the point that they would no longer be classified as having fatty liver disease. (iStock)

The larger study, published last June in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that retatrutide helped obese people lose almost 25% of their starting weight over a period of 48 weeks.

Ninety-eight adults with obesity between the ages of 18 and 75 were randomly assigned a dose of retatrutide. 

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(Participants who had type 2 diabetes were excluded, a spokesperson for the study told Fox News Digital.)

Among those taking 8 mg doses of retatrutide, the relative decrease in liver fat was almost 82% after 48 weeks.

It was 86% reduced for those taking 12 mg, the VCU report said.  

An ozempic injection

Retatrutide is an acylated peptide suitable for weekly injection, according to manufacturer Eli Lilly. (iStock)

By week 48 of the study, 93% of patients taking the higher dose of the medication had lost enough liver fat to drop below the 5% mark that classified them as having fatty liver disease.

“This is quite dramatic,” Sanyal said in the release. 

“Now we could have a treatment that allows you to wipe out the liver fat in patients with early-stage liver disease.”

“In obese populations, as much as 75% of the patients would have excess fat in the liver, but now we could have a treatment that allows you to wipe out the liver fat in patients with early-stage liver disease.”

Laura Feldman, a registered dietitian and an assistant professor of nutrition at Long Island University Post in Brookville, New York, was not involved in the study but provided feedback on the findings.

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While Feldman said she was glad to hear about the potential weight loss drug and its beneficial effects on the liver, she noted that following a healthy diet is also key.

“People with NAFLD should aim to limit excess fat in their diet — particularly saturated fats, which are typically found in animal foods and tropical oils,” she told Fox News Digital.

heart shaped bowl with fruits and vegetables

“People with NAFLD should aim to limit excess fat in their diet — particularly saturated fats, which are typically found in animal foods and tropical oils,” a dietitian told Fox News Digital. (iStock)

“NAFLD can also be made worse by consuming a lot of simple sugars, such as those found in sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Feldman suggested adhering to a diet rich in antioxidants, particularly vitamin E, which can be found in nuts and seeds. 

“There is also some research to support that coffee may be protective to the liver,” the expert added.

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The findings of this new sub-study have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

A Phase 3 clinical trial of retatrutide began in August. 

Fox News Digital reached out to the VCU researchers for additional comment.

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