Wegovy, the anti-obesity drug receiving enormous interest, is back in stock for patients after a months-long shortage, the company that makes it has announced.
All dose strengths of Wegovy are now available to pharmacies nationwide, though there may still be some delays as drugstores order the product from their local distribution centers, Novo Nordisk noted in a statement on its website on Dec. 28, 2022.
For now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still lists the medication as “currently in shortage” on its website.
The update comes months after the pharmaceutical giant said “unprecedented” demand for the anti-obesity therapy and issues at the manufacturing site led to a scarcity of the drug, and asked doctors not to start new patients on the treatment.
“This is great news… it’s been a really challenging year-and-a-half with this medication,” Dr. Christopher McGowan, a physician in Cary, North Carolina, who is board-certified in internal medicine, gastroenterology and obesity medicine, tells TODAY.com.
“Many of my patients have had to discontinue the medication entirely, and that was in most cases after initial success with it, so it was a fairly depressing, discouraging process for many patients who finally had a tool that was working for them.”
But they’ve now resumed using the medication and his weight loss clinic is finding the drug available at local pharmacies, he says.
McGowan reports “immense” and “overwhelming” interest in Wegovy from patients since it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2021, echoing what other obesity medicine doctors previously told TODAY.com about the medication.
Not everyone who wants to lose weight is a candidate for the prescription drug — or can afford it. If you’re curious about whether it’s right for you, here is what to know now:
What is Wegovy?
It’s a treatment for chronic weight management that patients inject under their skin once a week. Trial participants who took the drug for 16 months lost an average of 12% of their body weight compared to those who received a placebo.
“Wegovy is by far the most effective weight-loss medication that we have and that we’ve ever had. It’s far more effective than anything that’s preceded it,” McGowan says.
But other doctors caution the drug is not necessarily effective for everyone.
“It is definitely a new tool in the toolbox, but I don’t believe it is the tool,” Dr. Zhaoping Li, professor of medicine and chief of the division of clinical nutrition at the University of California, Los Angeles, previously told TODAY.com.
How does Wegovy work?
It’s in a class of drugs called GLP-1 receptor agonists and works by mimicking a natural hormone the body releases when a person eats food. This hormone, called glucagon-like peptide-1, targets areas of the brain that regulate appetite and food intake.
Besides working in the brain’s hunger centers to curb appetite, the drug also works on receptors in the stomach to slow down stomach emptying, so patients are satisfied with smaller portions and feel less hungry overall, McGowan says.
“There is this shift that occurs from constantly being preoccupied with food to really not thinking about it,” he says.
Wegovy is still meant to be used “in addition to a reduced calorie diet and increased physical activity,” the FDA notes.
Who is a candidate for Wegovy?
It’s indicated for adults with a body mass index of 27 or greater who have at least one weight-related ailment or in patients with a BMI of 30 or greater, according to the FDA.
On Dec. 23, 2022, Novo Nordisk announced the FDA approved Wegovy for the treatment of obesity in teens who are 12 and older.
Wegovy is not meant for recreational or short-term use, so a person who wants to lose weight to look better for a vacation or a high school reunion would not be a candidate for it, McGowan says. He tells patients they need to be prepared to remain on it indefinitely because otherwise they can regain the weight they lost.
“This is not a medication to be used for cosmetic reasons,” he warns. “We know it’s happening — I don’t know to what degree, but it is worrisome. These are potent medications designed to treat a disease and they’re not for cosmetic purposes.”
How much does Wegovy cost?
The medication has a list price of $1,349 per package, which is a month’s supply. The majority of insurance plans, including Medicare, don’t cover Wegovy or any other anti-obesity drugs so cost “remains a huge barrier,” McGowan says.
“There’s no question that insurance should cover this medication,” McGowan notes. “We’re talking about nearly half of the U.S. population affected by obesity.”
AHIP, a trade group that represents the nation’s health insurance companies, says insurance providers seek to use the most clinically appropriate means to address obesity and typically provide coverage for multiple treatment options.
“The evidence and clinical guidelines related to obesity treatment — both medications and surgical options — are evolving rapidly,” David Allen, an AHIP spokesperson, says in a statement to TODAY.com.
“Health insurance providers will continue to review the clinical evidence and conditions for which a medication is approved to support safe and effective treatments for patients.”
What are the side effects of Wegovy?
The majority of patients will experience digestive side effects, with nausea being the most common, McGowan says. That usually happens early on in the treatment, is easily managed and resolves over time, he adds.
In clinical trials, almost 7% of patients treated with Wegovy permanently stopped taking the drug because of adverse reactions, or more than twice the number of people who received a placebo, Novo Nordisk reported.
Besides nausea, the most common side effects that led patients to stop treatment were vomiting and diarrhea.
Possible serious side effects include pancreatitis, gallbladder problems, kidney problems and increased heart rate, among other issues, according to the manufacturer.
When patients ask McGowan whether it’s safe to take the drug long-term, he tells them there are no long-term studies on Wegovy.
But he notes that GLP-1 receptor agonists have been used for more than a decade to treat Type 2 diabetes, “so we do have a very reassuring track record in general with these medications.”