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Why You Might Not Be Able to Start Taking Wegovy

Maker of weight-loss version of Ozempic has limited starter-dose supplies in U.S.

By Dominic Chopping and Peter Loftus, WSJ

Updated May 4, 2023 3:31 pm ET

The Danish pharmaceutical giant that makes the obesity drug Wegovy said it would temporarily hold back some lower-strength starter doses in the U.S. in an effort to safeguard supplies for current patients amid soaring demand.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared Wegovy, made by Novo Nordisk NVO -4.38%decrease; red down pointing triangle, as a treatment for chronic weight management in 2021. It has since exploded in popularity.

The plan to reduce supply of starter doses illustrates the strong demand for weight-loss drugs and suggests that lingering supply-chain issues at Novo Nordisk are limiting their use.

An older Novo Nordisk drug, Ozempic—which has been around for more than half a decade as a treatment for Type 2 diabetes—has also been prescribed for weight loss, leading to shortages of the drug among patients who use it for treating their diabetes.

Novo Nordisk on Thursday reported surging demand for both drugs and said it expects capacity limitations at some manufacturing sites to result in “continued periodic supply constraints and related drug shortage notifications across a number of products and geographies.” The supply capacity is gradually being expanded, it said.

By temporarily reducing shipments of lower dose-strength Wegovy, the company would safeguard “continuity of care” for current patients, a Novo Nordisk spokeswoman said.

Some drugs initially approved to treat Type 2 diabetes are now being used for cosmetic weight loss. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez explains how they work, their side effects, and concerns over unintended consequences. Illustration: Elizabeth Smelov

“The number of new patients getting onto the product is just mind blowing,” Novo Nordisk Chief Financial Officer Karsten Munk Knudsen said in an interview.

He said the reduction in supply of lower-dose Wegovy could last for months, into the third quarter.

Wegovy comes in a range of dose strengths. To mitigate gastrointestinal and other side effects, new patients starting out on the drug take the lowest dose for several weeks, and then gradually increase dose levels over about four months before reaching the highest, maintenance dose.

By reducing the supply of lower Wegovy dose strengths, Novo Nordisk is effectively discouraging doctors from starting new patients on the drug, in hopes of conserving supplies of higher doses for patients who have already been taking it.

Novo Nordisk used a similar strategy to manage supply during much of 2022, when rising demand and a problem at a contract manufacturer caused shortages. The company made all dose levels available again in the U.S. in December.

Novo Nordisk also said there have been periodic supply constraints for Ozempic in several countries. The company expects continued periodic shortages of Ozempic and other products in multiple countries.

In light of the supply constraints, Novo Nordisk also is pausing some promotional activities for Wegovy in the U.S. and slowing down its planned rollout of the product in additional countries, Mr. Knudsen said. Wegovy is currently available in the U.S., Denmark and Norway.

Wegovy has been approved by U.K. drug regulators, but Novo hasn’t yet made it available there. A spokeswoman said the company plans to make it available as soon as it can but isn’t providing a launch date.

Novo Nordisk American depositary shares were down 5% Thursday afternoon.

The drug’s popularity has turned Novo Nordisk into Europe’s second-most valuable company by market capitalization, behind luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

On Thursday, the pharmaceutical giant reported surging sales, thanks in large part to demand for Ozempic and Wegovy, beating earnings forecasts and saying it would expand a share buyback program.

Overall sales rose 27% to 53.37 billion Danish krone, equivalent to $7.92 billion, versus the roughly 52.5 billion krone implied by recent company guidance.

Novo Nordisk said Ozempic sales in the first quarter rose 63% from the same period a year ago. Wegovy sales more than tripled.

“Growth is driven by increasing demand for our GLP-1-based diabetes and obesity treatments, particularly in the U.S. where the prescription trend for Wegovy highlights the high unmet need for people living with obesity,” Chief Executive Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said.

Last month, the company raised full-year guidance after noting strong sales trends for Wegovy and Ozempic. Both share the same active ingredient: semaglutide.

Semaglutide is a glucagon-like peptide-1 drug, or GLP-1; a class of drugs that mimic a hormone to produce more insulin, lower blood glucose and slow stomach emptying after eating, helping to treat both Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

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