Wegovy: UK's NHS gets limited supply of popular weight loss drug

The new weight loss drug is to be combined with a specific diet and exercise.
The new weight loss drug is to be combined with a specific diet and exercise. Copyright M. Spencer Green/Copyright 2017 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews
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Wegovy, manufactured by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, is a popular new weight loss drug.


The weight loss drug Wegovy is now available for patients in the United Kingdom despite its limited supply.

The drug will be prescribed to patients undergoing weight loss management treatment through the UK's National Health Service (NHS) or private registered healthcare clinics.

Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical company that supplies Wegovy, says it expects supply to be "constrained for the foreseeable future".

In the early stages of the drug's prescription, a proportion of available supply will be reserved for NHS use.

Semaglutide was approved earlier this year by the UK's National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for weight loss under the brand name Wegovy.

The UK government says that around 35,000 people will be granted access to Wegovy in line with national health guidelines. The drug is to be prescribed alongside exercise and dietary plans.

However, as part of its two-year weight loss pilot programme to tackle obesity, the Department of Health is looking into prescribing the drug outside of weight management facilities.

Supply chain issues

One charity, Diabetes UK has expressed concerns about the shortage of drugs used by people with type 2 diabetes to manage blood glucose levels. These drugs - like Wegovy - contain the antidiabetic medication semaglutide. 

"The situation is causing considerable stress and uncertainty for those affected and, in cases where no other alternatives are suitable, people are being moved on to insulin – which can be challenging to manage and requires additional time from healthcare professionals to support people to use it," said Douglas Twenefour, Head of Care at Diabetes UK.

Although Wegovy has only just been approved in the UK, another drug named Ozempic was approved by the NHS back in March. 

This triggered shortages in semaglutide due to the surge in unlicensed prescriptions - which in turn outstripped supply. 

"These medications should not be prescribed off-label under any circumstances while there is an ongoing shortage impacting people with type 2 diabetes," said Twenefour.

Side effects of the drug

Common side effects of Wegovy can include nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting and constipation. 

There has been high demand for the drug in the United States and Canada, but also reports of severe side effects.

One lawsuit in the United States against Novo Nordisk and another pharmaceutical company claimed the drugs can cause stomach paralysis.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists has also suggested that patients not take the medication before surgery due to “anecdotal reports” that the drugs are “associated with an increased risk of regurgitation and aspiration of food into the airways and lungs during general anaesthesia and deep sedation".

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