Why the shortage of weight loss medication?

If you’re getting frustrated by the shortage of weight loss medication then you’re not alone. The manufacturers and even the NHS are suffering.

A global shortage of all medicine

In recent weeks and months, the demand for weight loss medications (known as “GLP-1 medications”) has surged, leading to shortages and challenges for pharmaceutical companies and patients alike. Novo Nordisk, a major player in this space, is facing significant hurdles in handling the overwhelming demand for its first-generation weight-loss drug, Saxenda. This shortage comes in the wake of the scarcity of Novo Nordisk's popular obesity medicine, Wegovy, further exacerbating the situation.

Although it is licensed for weight loss in the UK, Wegovy has not yet been commercially launched here. Consequently, the NHS has advised GPs not to start any new patients on this class of weight loss medication and some NHS patients are even having to stop their treatment.

Although Mounjaro by Eli Lilly is likely to alleviate the supply issues (and is an even more effective drug for weight management than Wegovy) a launch date for the UK will not be known for a few weeks given that Mounjaro is not yet licensed for use in the United Kingdom.

Wegovy, Rybelsus, Saxenda - all in short supply

The scarcity of Saxenda has become a concerning issue for patients looking to manage their weight effectively. Saxenda's limited availability is expected to persist through the end of 2023, with indications that the problem might extend beyond this year as well. A Novo Nordisk spokesperson revealed that the company has been grappling with a substantial increase in demand for Saxenda, making it difficult to fulfill patient prescriptions for the foreseeable future.

The surge in demand for Saxenda was initially triggered by a manufacturing setback faced by Wegovy, a weight-loss medication that contains semaglutide, a stronger GLP-1 agonist than liraglutide found in Saxenda. With Wegovy's supply issues, patients seeking weight-loss alternatives turned to Saxenda and to Rybelsus, an oral form of Wegovy.

Despite Saxenda's success and its role as a viable alternative, its limited supply has left many patients in a challenging position. Novo Nordisk is urging patients to consult with their GPs about alternative treatment options. However, the problem lies in the fact that other existing obesity therapies are also facing supply issues. We are seeing a trickle-down effect which means very limited supply across all types of weight loss medication with shortages of Wegovy leading to shortages of Saxenda, Rybelsus and others.

Impact on diabetes medication

This shortage also raises concerns for those relying on other Novo Nordisk medications like Ozempic, which is used to treat diabetes. As some individuals turned to Ozempic as an alternative for weight loss, it has faced its own supply challenges, highlighting the interconnectedness of medication availability and the need for comprehensive solutions.

Moreover, the growing popularity of Novo Nordisk's newer weight-loss drugs like Wegovy, combined with Eli Lilly's Mounjaro, has created unprecedented demand in recent months. Studies have shown that these drugs can help patients lose significant weight, fueling their appeal.

Published: 2 July 2023