By Maggie Fick, Patrick Wingrove and Elissa Welle
LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Some US patients taking the two highest doses of Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy weight-loss drug are experiencing difficulties filling their prescriptions, eight doctors across the country told Reuters this week, posing a new supply challenge for the popular medicine suggests.
Wegovy is a weekly injection that can help patients lose 15% of their weight alongside changes in diet and exercise. Its high efficacy has led to huge demand in the US, where approximately 115 million adults and children are obese.
Walgreens, one of the largest pharmacies in the US, is experiencing a shortage of supply for the higher strengths, spokesperson Erin Loverher confirmed.
Novo told Reuters on Friday that there were no supply interruptions for the highest doses of 1.7 milligrams and 2.4 milligrams, repeating May’s comments when it announced restrictions on lower doses.
The Danish drugmaker said in May that to meet high demand from Wegovy, it would reduce supply of the three lower or “starting” doses for several months to secure supplies for current patients.
Wegovy is available in five strengths. Patients are expected to reach the highest dose of 2.4mg after 17 weeks of taking the drug, although some doctors and patients say they are on a slower dosing schedule to reduce side effects.
Doctors in six US states told Reuters that patients are reporting problems filling their prescriptions for the higher doses. Three of the doctors said delivery delays at pharmacies had caused patients to miss their Wegovy injections at the prescribed weekly interval.
Dr. Alicia Shelly, an internal medicine and obesity specialist at Wellstar Health System in Georgia, said since the end of May she has heard from more than 20 of her obese patients who have experienced delays in obtaining prescriptions for the filled doses of 1,7 and 2 .4mg.
“They’re being told by the pharmacists that they don’t know when the medication will be available,” Shelly said, adding that she’s started switching some patients to less effective weight-loss drugs like Novo’s Saxenda.
Obesity specialist Dr. Robert Kushner, of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said the delays have caused some of his patients in the Chicago area to take their injections as late as four days.
“Patients often have to delay their injections because it is more difficult for pharmacies to get Wegovy in stock,” he said. He didn’t know of a patient who ended up being unable to fill their prescription, he added.
“It’s almost like a game of Whack-A-Mole, seeing which pharmacy (has stock),” he said.
Patients taking the highest dose of Wegovy and missing their weekly injection are likely to experience worse-than-normal gastrointestinal side effects, such as vomiting, according to Kushner, a concern echoed by other doctors interviewed for this story.
‘IT’S A BATTLE’
Denise Wells, a 57-year-old woman working in the auto industry in Michigan, started using Wegovy in February and has lost 40 pounds (18 kg) so far. She started the 1.7mg dose in June and on Friday she has to inject herself with the last of her four-dose monthly prescription.
After being unable to fill its prescription for that dose last month, Walgreens switched to Amazon Pharmacy, but Amazon has yet to ship next month’s supply.
Wells worries about gaining weight when her fill doesn’t arrive the following week.
“You can’t introduce something so life-changing and then say, ‘Okay, we’re out.’ Make some more,” said Wells.
Amazon acknowledged the nationwide shortage of some weight-loss drugs in a statement. “We are working closely with our suppliers and insurers to address these challenges,” the company said.
Six other doctors — in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Detroit, Atlanta and Charlottesville, Virginia — told Reuters about similar delay complaints from patients on the two higher doses.
Dr. New York University Langone’s Holly Lofton, a family physician who specializes in obesity, said the delays could be due to doctors prescribing higher doses of Wegovy due to the company’s current restrictions on the three lower doses.
Northwestern Medicine endocrinologist Disha Narang said up to 10 of the more than 100 patients she sees monthly reported recent difficulties filling their prescription and had to delay injections by 4 to 7 days.
“It’s a struggle. Patients can’t get their Wegovy reliably,” she said.
Wegovy was approved by the US in 2021, but soon faced supply restrictions after launch due to contract manufacturer issues. That supply problem eased at the end of last year and Wegovy usage started to rise again at the beginning of this year.
According to Barclays Research, it hit about 135,000 prescriptions a week in May, up from 45,000 in the last week of January, fueling fears of shortages. In the last three weeks of June, the total number of prescriptions written fell to about 100,000 per week, about 25% less than before Novo started restricting starting doses.
“Novo really missed the mark in determining the demand for this drug,” Narang said.
(Reporting by Maggie Fick in London and Patrick Wingrove and Elissa Welle in New York; editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)