Novo Nordisk, maker of the popular weight-loss drug Wegovy, says it has started to increase the availability of the drug for people in the United States.
Demand-driven supply shortages forced the company to limit the availability of Wegovy starter doses in May.
"I'm very pleased to state that we are now enabling more new US patients to initiate treatment by more than doubling the amount of the lower-dose strengths of Wegovy compared to the previous months," Doug Langa, head of North America operations for Novo Nordisk, said on a call with analysts Wednesday. "We will gradually be increasing the overall supply throughout the remainder of 2024."
The US Food and Drug Administration approved Wegovy in 2021 for chronic weight management for people witha body mass index of 30 or more, or 27 or more for those with a weight-related condition like high blood pressure. It is designed to be taken once a week by self-injection. Users start on the lowest dose, 0.25 milligrams, and move up to a maintenance dose, 2.4 milligrams, over the course of 16 weeks to limit side effects.
The active ingredient in Wegovy is semaglutide, which is part of a class of drugs that mimic the effects of an appetite-regulating hormone called GLP-1. They stimulate the release of insulin, which helps lower blood sugar, and slow the passage of food through the gut. In clinical trials, semaglutide was shown to help people lose about 15% of their body weight, on average, along with diet and exercise.
Strong demand for the drug after its approval quickly led to a supply shortage. In May, Novo Nordisk said it had to limit the supply of the lowest three doses of Wegovy to keep the drug available for people already taking it.
"The limited supply of Wegovy posed a significant obstacle, preventing patients from commencing their preferred medication therapy," Dr. Priya Jaisinghani, an endocrinologist and obesity medicine specialist at NYU Langone Health, said in an email to CNN. "The expanded availability of Wegovy starter doses represents a breakthrough, offering a tangible solution to those who have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to embark on their chosen treatment path."
To try to meet demand, Novo Nordisk said, it has expanded the supply chain by contracting with new manufacturers. It plans to sustain this expansion in 2024 by investing about $6.5 billion in production, almost double that of last year.
"We will closely monitor market dynamics and prescribing trends and will continue to manage shipments as best as possible in an effort to support continuity of care for patients," the company said in a statement. "However, it's important to be aware that overall demand will continue to exceed supply which means that some patients may still have difficulty filling Wegovyprescriptions."
Supply is not the only factor limiting access to Wegovy and other obesity medications. Jaisinghani said that many people who qualify for obesity medications can't access them due to the high cost of the drugs and insufficient insurance coverage. A one-month supply of Wegovy can cost $1,350 before insurance, doctors have told CNN.
Novo Nordisk has reaped huge profits from the sales of Wegovy and its sister diabetes medication Ozempic, reporting a total sales growth of 36% and an operating profit growth of 44% in 2023, but competition has also emerged. In November, the FDA approved Eli Lilly's drug tirzepatide, used in the diabetes drug Mounjaro, for the treatment of obesity under the name Zepbound. The list price of Zepbound is about 20% lower than the price of Wegovy.
Regardless of the brand, ensuring access to obesity medications for eligible people is crucial, Jaisinghani said. She also warns against obtaining weight-loss medications through potentially risky avenues such as medical tourism or compounding pharmacies.
"Ensuring sustained weight management is a critical objective, and interruptions due to drug shortages pose substantial challenges for ongoing treatment plans," Jaisinghani said.
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