Weight-Loss Drugs Improve Liver Measures Too

BOSTON — With the current demand for type 2 diabetes drugs that both improve glycemic control and help patients shed large amounts of weight, liver specialists have speculated that the metabolic benefits could also extend to the liver.

Spoiler alert: they do.

In a retrospective study of patients with metabolic-associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) who received either a sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT-2) inhibitor or glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonist, 87% of those who lost at least 3% of body weight within 8 weeks eventually experienced normalization of alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels, reported Takamasa Ohki, MD, PhD, and colleagues from the Department of Gastroenterology at Mitsui Memorial Hospital in Tokyo, Japan.

“Body weight reduction within 8 weeks after administration of these agents was an independent factor [that] contributed to rapid improvement of ALT. Maintenance of body weight and T2DM after normalization of ALT was also very important,” they write in a scientific poster presented here at The Liver Meeting 2023: American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD).

The Biggest Losers Benefit Most

Okhi and colleagues evaluated the effectiveness of SGLT-2 inhibitors and GLP-1 agonists as treatment of MAFLD for patients with T2DM.

They conducted a retrospective study of 233 patients who had both conditions and who received either of the drug classes at their institution from June 2010 through December 2021; the most recent follow-up was in December 2022. The primary endpoint of the study was normalization of ALT values.

A total of 54 patients had a 3% or greater reduction in body weight within 8 weeks of beginning treatment with their respective drugs. The researchers found that for 47 of these patients (87%), ALT values normalized; the 12-, 24-, and 36-month cumulative normalization rates were 61%, 73%, and 80%, respectively.

In contrast, among the 179 patients who did not lose weight as robustly or rapidly, 137 (76.5%) demonstrated normalization of ALT, with cumulative normalization rates of 41%, 59% and 69%, respectively (P < .01).

In multivariate analysis that controlled for age, sex, smoking, hypertension, dyslipedmia, weight reduction, and antidiabetes drug use, body weight reduction of at least 3% within 8 weeks of beginning treatment with either an SLT-2 or GLP-1 agent was associated independently with normalization of ALT, with a hazard ratio (HR) of 0.67 (P = .028).

Improvement of T2DM was an independent predictor for ALT normalization (HR, 0.64; P = .015).

Other factors contributing to ALT normalization included use of sulfonylurea (HR, 0.63; P < .01) and insulin (HR, 0.54; P < .01).

In all, 103 of the 184 patients with initial normalization of ALT values experienced a recurrence of ALT elevation during follow-up. In multivariate analysis, body weight gain and exacerbation of T2DM were independent factors for ALT reexacerbation (HR, 0.52 and 0.48, respectively; P < .01 for both comparisons).

Duration of Effect Uncertain

Philip A. Newsome, PhD, FRCPE, professor of experimental hepatology and honorary consultant hepatologist at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study, has conducted research into the metabolic effects of SGLT-2 inhibitors and GLP-1 agonists. In an interview with Medscape Medical News, he said that both drug classes are likely to have positive near-term effects on metabolic dysfunction–associated steatohepatitis (MASH, formerly NASH) through their effects on glucose control and reduction in associated comorbidities. “The unknown question,” he added, is what will happen in the long term.

“I think there are some uncertainties around what proportion of patients will essentially be downstaged or downgraded such that they don’t develop any other problem; I suspect that will be the case in very many patients. However, I suspect there will also be a large proportion that end up requiring additional therapy above and beyond weight loss,” said Newsome.

The investigators did not report a funding source for the study. Okhi and colleagues have disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Newsome has consulted on behalf of his institution with Novo Nordisk, BMS, Gilead, Pfizer, Poxel, and Intercept and has received a grant from Pharmaxis and Boehringer Ingelheim.

Neil Osterweil, an award-winning medical journalist, is a long-standing and frequent contributor to Medscape.

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