PI Focus: Velocity PI Leads Breakthrough Efforts to Combat Obesity, Diabetes

The Velocity Clinical Research team in Los Angeles, CA, is tackling two of the biggest health threats to Americans today: obesity and diabetes.

Better still, they’re making tremendous progress against these conditions that exact a terrible toll on quality of life and longevity.

Consider these sobering statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC):

  • The U.S. obesity prevalence was 42% in 2017 – March 2020. (NHANES, 2021)
  • Compared to 20 years ago, U.S. obesity prevalence increased from 30.5% to 41.9%, and the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%. (NHANES, 2021)
  • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death.

“We’re not waiting for the breakthrough to combat the obesity epidemic in the U.S.,” says Juan Frías, MD, Medical Director and Principal Investigator (PI) for Velocity in Los Angeles. “We’re at the breakthrough,” he says, citing several potentially huge new therapies for which he and his team have been active in the clinical trials. “I think our team has played a big role in a number of key treatment advances over the past decade,” he adds.

“I love being a PI,” Dr. Frías says as he reflects on his nearly twenty-year career. His clinical trial and research focus has been type 2 diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver diseases. “There is overlap in these conditions,” Dr. Frías says, noting that over 90% of type 2 diabetes patients are also overweight or obese.

Dr. Frías, a native of Chile, completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Florida and received his medical degree from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. After serving five years as a General Medical Officer in the U.S. Navy, he completed his training in Internal Medicine at Vanderbilt University and the University of Tennessee, and his Fellowship in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego.

Dr. Frías has held leadership positions in Clinical and Medical Affairs at Eli Lilly, Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, where he served as Chief Medical Officer and Global Vice President of Clinical and Medical Affairs, Diabetes Care. Dr. Frías is also a leading speaker at industry conferences and has had papers published in the New England Journal of Medicine and Lancet, among other publications.

Dr. Frías and team have already been integral contributors to clinical trials that helped bring powerful new treatments to patients, including:

  • Eli Lilly’s type 2 diabetes drug, tirzepatide (MOUNJARO), that is currently in clinical trials for weight loss as well. Participants with type 2 diabetes in a clinical trial assessing weight loss with tirzepatide lost up to 34 pounds, or approximately 16% of their body weight, the company said in clinical trial results. Eli Lilly plans to complete its application for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the coming weeks and expects regulatory action as early as later this year, as reported by CNBC.
  • Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide as a treatment for obesity, which earned approval from the FDA in June 2021.
  • Eli Lilly in December 2022 announced the expected initiation of Phase 3 clinical trials for retatrutide (GGG tri-agonist) in obesity and orforglipron (oral non-peptide GLP-1 receptor agonist) in type 2 diabetes and obesity. Dr. Frías and his team are also involved in these clinical trials.

As of June 2023, Dr. Frías and team were at the early stages ramping up an exciting new trial for an obesity treatment. “The field is evolving,” he says, “and our Velocity team is right in the middle of it.”

The newer wave of obesity treatments generally have fewer, less serious side effects, he says. In addition, treatments can now sometimes be taken weekly with injectables where the needle is hidden. “They are very easy to use,” he notes. Previous treatments sometimes required daily injections, and side effects including diarrhea, nausea, and other intestinal issues were more common and more serious.

Ease of use is vital, Dr. Frías notes, because in most cases weight loss treatments are lifelong and require dedicated adherence.

“I’ve always been interested in research,” he says. “And it’s an incredible feeling to now be prescribing some treatments for diabetes and obesity where I was part of the clinical research team helping them get safely to market,” he adds.

References and additional reading

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