Weight-Loss Drug Wegovy Launches In U.K. As Shares Of Drugmaker Novo Nordisk Hit New Peak


Weight-loss drug Wegovy launched in the U.K. on Monday, Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk announced in a statement, continuing the company’s push into new markets despite ongoing supply shortages it warns could take years to fully resolve as it struggles to keep up with booming demand.

Wegovy launched in the UK on Monday.

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Key Facts

Novo said Wegovy, the brand name for a drug called semaglutide, was being made available in Britain through a “controlled and limited launch.”

Semaglutide—which is also sold as diabetes drug Ozempic—is already in short supply and the drugmaker said it expects “supply to be constrained for the foreseeable future.”

A “proportion of available supply” will be allocated for sole use within Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), Novo said, which means only those who fall under NHS guidelines will be in line to receive the drug.

According to recommendations from the National Institute for Care and Excellence (Nice)—England’s drug cost-effectiveness watchdog—eligible patients will have a body mass index of at least 30 and have weight-related health issues.

Nice guidance says the drug should be used for a maximum of two years and within a “specialist weight management service” offered within the NHS, citing evidence that “there is no evidence of effectiveness if semaglutide is used as a single stand-alone treatment.”

Novo said it shares the British government’s ambition to boost access to obesity care and will continue working with healthcare professionals to help ensure patients with the “highest unmet medical need are prioritized.”

News Peg

Novo Nordisk shares hit a record high on Monday and the company is jostling with French luxury goods behemoth LVMH for the title of Europe’s most valuable listed company, which it briefly claimed on Friday. Novo’s rapid ascent is being propelled by soaring sales of its diabetes and obesity drugs and the company’s market value now exceeds that of its domestic economy. The firm has struggled to meet burgeoning demand for the drug and has implemented supply constraints in existing markets to prioritize people already on the drug (who use a higher dose). Despite Novo’s ongoing failure to resolve the supply constraints, it is pushing ahead with launches—albeit delayed—in new markets. CEO Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen in August admitted it could “take quite some years” for it to fully meet demand.

Key Background

Weight loss has always been big business and the market for drugs in the sector is shaping up to be one of the most lucrative in the history of the pharmaceutical industry. Wegovy, as well as Ozempic, gained early reputations as buzzy lifestyle drugs and were touted by celebrities like Elon Musk who said it helped them shed excess pounds. While helpful in this context, they also have the potential to be potent public health tools. Obesity is a major and growing health problem and evidence indicates the drug could be a gamechanger in helping people shed excess weight and live longer, healthier lives. This adds a challenge to funding considerations over the drug, especially for private insurers or public systems like Britain’s NHS. Obesity is linked with numerous other health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer and weight loss will have numerous secondary effects beyond just losing weight that will benefit patients, health systems and society. Other drugs, such as Mounjaro, are soon set to challenge Novo Nordisk’s solitary position in the industry.

What We Don’t Know

Many private pharmacy chains and medical providers in the U.K. have said they plan to sell Wegovy. Given Novo’s announcement on providing initial supplies to the NHS, it is unclear how the drug will be made available through private, paid healthcare in Britain. Novo’s statement said the drug would be available “privately through a registered healthcare professional” but gave no indication of when or how this might be available or if this would take away from limited NHS stock.

Further Reading

Weight-Loss Drug Wegovy Will Launch In More Countries Despite Ongoing Struggles Over Stellar Demand, CEO Says (Forbes)

Are Bacteria The New Ozempic? Research Finds Promising Gut Microbe That Could Help Fight Obesity (Forbes)

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