Wegovy finally reaches the UK, in 'limited' quantities
Novo Nordisk's sought-after obesity therapy Wegovy has finally reached the UK and can be prescribed by NHS weight management services – but supplies are being carefully controlled as its manufacturer tries to balance supply and demand.
The introduction in the UK comes a few weeks after Novo Nordisk launched the once-weekly injectable in Germany, after earlier rollouts in Norway, Denmark, and the US.
Demand for Wegovy (semaglutide) has been rocketing since studies first revealed that the GLP-1 agonist was able to reduce weight by around 15%, and is expected to escalate even further in light of new data showing that it can also help to protect against heart attacks, stroke, and heart failure.
Some patients are opting to pay for it out of pocket – its price is around $1,350 per month in the US – and, indeed, that is the only option for many patients in Germany, where national health insurance does not cover any weight-loss drugs.
The out-of-pocket route will also be an option in the UK, with Novo Nordisk saying Wegovy will be available through registered private healthcare professionals as well.
The UK rollout of the drug will be limited to people with a body mass index of 35 or more and a concomitant illness like diabetes, or a BMI of 30 or more and a referral to NHS weight-loss services. It will be provided as part of a programme that will include a reduced-calorie diet and exercise.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended its use in that context earlier this year, but it has taken two years for the drug to launch in the UK after being approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in 2021.
The cost to the NHS is not public, but Wegovy has a list price of £175.80 for a pack of four 2.4 mg injectors - the recommended maintenance dose after a titration period - although, one pharmacy chain told Reuters it would charge patients between £199 and £299 for a one-month supply.
In June, the UK government said it was putting $40 million into a pilot scheme to trial distribution of weight-loss drugs through GP practices.
In a statement, Novo Nordisk said that the launch of the drug in the UK will be "controlled and limited", but that it shares the government's "ambition to make obesity care accessible where there is high unmet medical need."
"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," it added.
The NHS said that around 50,000 people in the UK could be eligible for Wegovy, although Novo Nordisk has not given any indication how much of the drug will be made available.
Despite the supply constraints, Wegovy is already contributing to a big increase in Novo Nordisk revenues, with obesity sales reaching DKK 18 billion ($2.7 billion) in the first half of this year. Wegovy contributed DKK 12 billion of that total, with the remainder accounted for by older, once-daily GLP-1 injectable Saxenda (liraglutide).