London — Major drug store chains in the United Kingdom plan to start selling the weight loss drug Wegovy, a different version of its hugely popular Ozempic brand, this year, as the company that makes both says it’s working to expand supplies of the popular semaglutide medications to Europe.
Semaglutide works by mimicking the action of a hormone that makes people feel full, blunting their appetites so they eat less. Ozempic is marketed and prescribed to treat Type 2 diabetes, but its side effect of dramatic weight loss has made it popular among celebrities for that purpose. Wegovy, made by the same Denmark-based pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, is marketed specifically for weight loss and comes in higher doses.
The spike in popularity of semaglutide caused a surge in demand,earlier this year.
Britain’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued draft guidance recommending Wegovy for people living with obesity, and its final guidance is expected on March 8. That guidance will serve as a formal instruction to Britain’s National Health Service to start providing the drug to patients who need it, a NICE spokesperson told CBS News.
“We know that management of overweight and obesity is one of the biggest challenges our health service is facing with nearly two thirds of adults either overweight or obese. It is a lifelong condition that needs medical intervention, has psychological and physical effects, and can affect quality of life,” Helen Knight, program director at the center for health technology evaluation at NICE, said in a statement.
Jo Dent, an NHS worker who visited a private doctor to obtain a prescription for Ozempic late last year after struggling to lose weight, told CBS News that semaglutide has helped her reshape her relationship with food. She said making it more readily available would be a good thing for the country’s health service.
“I do think it would support people to be less of a burden on the NHS, in terms of the challenges of obesity and what that means for other health conditions,” she said. “It’s not a quick fix and it’s not the only answer, but actually it will help you if you’re serious about wanting to lose weight.”
At least one major drug store chain in the U.K. plans to start prescribing and selling Wegovy privately through its online doctor service this year. Boots, the biggest national pharmacy chain, is already offering an online prescription service for the medication, while competitor Superdrug has set up a waiting list.
Declining to offer specific countries or timings, a spokesperson for Novo Nordisk said the company was “really looking to make sure that we only launch if we can provide the product. So obviously, we have ramped up our supply chain. We’ve invested quite a lot, where our manufacturing is now running 24-hours, seven days a week.”
The spokesperson said even after the NICE guidelines in the U.K. are published next week, Wegovy will only be available to the NHS once the company has sufficient supplies to offer it to the market.
“We don’t have concrete launch timings,” the spokesperson told CBS News. “We’re just looking to make it available as soon as possible.”
Novo Nordisk launched Wegovy in Norway and Denmark at the end of last year, and the spokesperson said the company expects to launch in a number of additional European countries in 2023.
“We’re just focused on, obviously, production for Europe and continuing to supply the U.S.,” the spokesperson told CBS News.
NICE said the list price of Wegovy in 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg and 1.0 mg doses was 73.25 pounds (about $88) per pack of four pre-filled injection pens, but that if it becomes available on the NHS, it will either be free or cost patients the standard prescription fee of about $10 per order, depending on the cost structure.
In the U.S. the same pack of four Wegovy injection pens has a list price of $1,349, but some health insurance plans will cover at least some of that cost.
In the U.K., Wegovy will only be available to obese adults who have at least one additional condition, such as heart disease or high blood pressure. It must be prescribed by a doctor or someone with specialist qualifications.