In recent years, the buzz around weight loss drugs has increased significantly. This is evident in a survey conducted of over a thousand US adults, where almost half (49%) of individuals trying to lose weight expressed an interest in using safe and effective medications to do so. As such, it is no surprise that the US markets are experiencing waves of high demand for a new weight loss drug—Wegovy. This can be seen in how the drug’s manufacturing company Novo Nordisk had dethroned even the French luxury conglomerate LVHM, surpassing a stock market valuation of over $423 billion.
But what exactly is Wegovy, and why is it causing a storm in various markets across the world?
What Is Wegovy?
Wegovy is a branded version of the weight loss drug semaglutide. Though initially designed for diabetes management, it’s now considered a game changer for individuals who have struggled to lose weight through traditional methods. It is proven to be safe and effective through its authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, not just anyone can take it. Wegovy is primarily intended for individuals with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. However, some individuals with a BMI of 27 to 29 with at least one weight-related health condition, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, may also be prescribed the drug.
Wegovy works by mimicking a hormone called GLP-1, which is naturally produced by the body. This hormone helps regulate appetite and food intake. By activating GLP-1 receptors in the brain, Wegovy reduces hunger and increases feelings of fullness. This, in turn, leads to reduced calorie intake and weight loss.
The medication is administered once a week via subcutaneous injection. The starting dose is 0.25 mg, with doctors often recommending subsequent doses be gradually increased to 2.4mg over the course of 16 weeks. Afterward, maintenance doses are kept at 2.4mg once a week. Alongside the administration of the drug, making the efforts to reduce calorie diet and increase physical activity is mandatory. With regular use, Wegovy can result in up to a 15% weight loss.
Wegovy’s side effects
Wegovy, like other forms of medication, can come with its own side effects. The most common ones that one registers and reports in clinics include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, these side effects are not that strong and typically resolve on their own.
In rare cases, though, Wegovy can cause much more serious side effects. This includes swelling in various parts of the face, such as the eyes, mouth, lips, tongue, or throat. Users may also experience severe rashes, hives, or itching, as well as trouble breathing, swallowing, and talking. It is important to be able to distinguish these serious symptoms from mild ones so you can seek medical help as soon as possible. But all this is also why medical weight loss drugs should only be taken with a doctor’s supervision.
Factors affecting Wegovy’s supply shortage
Wegovy demand has outpaced supply since its early days. During its initial release in the US back in June 2021, the drug’s release was considered a success due to it selling out immediately. However, its manufacturer Novo Nordisk had to push back the release of all doses due to an initial production outage. Its next release was then delayed until December 2022. This considered, below are the factors affecting the weight loss drug’s supply shortage.
Rising demand for weight loss drugs
The primary factor driving Wegovy’s supply shortage is the already high and still rising demand. Obesity rates have been skyrocketing globally, with the World Health Organization predicting that more than half (51%) of the global population, which is around four billion people, will be overweight or obese within the next 12 years. With more people seeking effective weight loss solutions, the demand for Wegovy has surged. Additionally, the drug’s proven effectiveness in clinical trials and personal anecdotes has further amplified its popularity, creating a higher demand that exceeds the drug’s current supply capabilities.
Manufacturing and production issues
Another critical factor affecting Wegovy’s supply shortage is its manufacturing and production issues. The production process is typically the stage where pharmaceutical companies run into most challenges, ranging from quality control to batch failures. Since Wegovy is a complex drug with stringent manufacturing requirements, any issues in its production chain can disrupt supply. Furthermore, disruptions in global supply chains further aggravate this problem, with shortages of essential raw materials, packaging supplies, and skilled labor hindering the drug’s production.
Implication for patients
The Wegovy supply shortage has implications for patients who rely on the medication for their weight loss. Some patients may have to wait longer to start treatment or switch to alternative medications that may not be as effective. This can have negative impacts on their health and well-being. Fortunately, there are a few alternatives that doctors can prescribe in the meantime.
Alternatives to Wegovy
Let us look at some of the alternatives to the Wegovy here in this section.
Qsymia functions almost exactly the same as Wegovy despite being a different medication altogether. While Wegovy’s weight loss effects are approximately 15%, the use of Qsymia for weight loss can also lead to a significant 11% reduction in body weight after a year of taking it. This medication is a combination of phentermine and topiramate. The former serves to suppress appetite, while the latter helps with reducing cravings and increasing feelings of fullness. Together, these medications help individuals achieve sustainable weight loss. As a result, Qsymia is an optimal alternative considering it tends to be much more affordable and experiences fewer supply chain issues.
Saxenda is a branded form of liraglutide. Though similar to the semaglutide in Wegovy, the main difference between them lies in the longevity of their effects. Whereas liraglutide lasts for 13 to 15 hours and is administered daily, while semaglutide lasts for up to 165 hours and is administered weekly. Even with the gaps in administration frequency, both are GLP-1 agonists that work the same way. Despite how Wegovy is said to achieve weight loss faster, the milder Saxenda lessens the risk of any negative side effects that the patient may encounter, making it a good choice for those seeking “gentler” Wegovy alternatives.
Orlistat is a medication used for weight management. It works by inhibiting the lipase enzyme responsible for breaking down fat in the intestine, leading to a reduction in fat absorption. Studies show that patients can lose up to five kilograms of weight after just 12 weeks of dieting with Orlistat. While this medication doesn’t usher in the same rapid weight loss as Wegovy, Orlistat is an oral medication which makes it a suitable alternative for patients who don’t like needles.
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