‘Limited’ supply of weight loss drug semaglutide launched in UK

Manufacturer Novo Nordisk said it will monitor demand and work with regulators to ensure Wegovy is accessible to eligible patients.
Semaglutide (Wegovy) packaging

The weight loss drug semaglutide will be made available for prescription from 4 September 2023, in what its manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, has described as a “controlled and limited launch” of the drug.

Marketed as Wegovy, the glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist will be available in specialist NHS weight management services for people who meet the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) criteria or privately through registered healthcare professionals. It is supplied as a once-weekly injectable treatment.

In guidance published in March 2023, NICE approved semaglutide for NHS treatment for weight loss, saying at the time that the drug would be available “soon”.

Although semaglutide is already prescribed in the NHS for diabetes, a national patient safety alert was issued in July 2023 warning of shortages of GLP-1 receptor agonists, citing use of off-label prescribing for weight loss as a reason.

In its statement announcing the drug’s availability, Novo Nordisk said it would “closely monitor” demand and work with regulators and providers to ensure the drug was accessible to eligible patients.

“As we expect supply to be constrained for the foreseeable future, a proportion of available supply will be allocated for use only within the NHS to allow healthcare professionals to implement NICE guidance. We will continue to work with healthcare professionals to help ensure that patients with the highest unmet medical need are prioritised,” the statement added.

NICE guidance recommends semaglutide for a maximum of two years in people with obesity and one weight-related comorbidity, such as type 2 diabetes mellitus or hypertension. Patients will also be offered advice about diet and exercise.

A spokesperson for NHS England said in a statement that around 50,000 eligible patients in England could be prescribed Wegovy through NHS specialist weight management services that can provide appropriate multidisciplinary care.

“Despite global supply constraints, NHS England is taking action to begin implementing NICE guidance for weight management, while at the same time working to restore supplies of this class of drug for people with type 2 diabetes,” the spokesperson said.

Douglas Twenefour, head of care at Diabetes UK, said ongoing shortages of GLP-1 receptor agonists were “having serious implications for many people with type 2 diabetes”.

“We hope that the launch of Wegovy will ease some of the pressures on the supply of GLP-1 medications by offering an option that is expressly for weight loss and therefore reducing off-label prescription of GLP-1 drugs licensed for type 2 diabetes,” he said. 

In June 2023, the UK government announced that GPs would be able to prescribe Wegovy injections as part of a £40m pilot to expand specialist weight management services outside hospital settings.

Several community pharmacy multiples said in April 2023 that they planned to offer private Wegovy services when it became available in the UK.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, September 2023, Vol 311, No 7977;311(7977)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.195781

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