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Germany considers banning Ozempic exports, including to U.S.

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Drugs used to treat diabetes have exploded in popularity as Ozempic and Wegovy proved themselves highly effective in shrinking peoples’ waistlines. Unfortunately, that popularity proved to be greater than anyone could have imagined.

Now, Germany is considering joining a growing list of countries banning Ozempic’s export to shore up its own supply of the drug, as a shortage threatens the health of manufacturer Novo Nordisk’s diabetic customers.

Speaking to Der Spiegel magazine, Karl Broich, president of the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices, said some of the country’s supply of drugs, which are cheaper in Germany, were being shipped to other EU countries and the U.S.

However, instances where it is being used to aid weight loss are now starting to impact its availability for those diabetic customers who are more reliant on the drug, forcing it to consider a ban.

“We need the drug for the care of diabetes patients and not as a lifestyle drug,” Broich told Der Spiegel. “You can see that things are being advertised on social media that are not at all in our interest.” 

Ozempic’s transformation

Ozempic was originally marketed by Novo Nordisk as a GLP-1 drug for patients suffering from type 2 diabetes, but it was later found to aid weight loss. Wegovy, directly marketed by Novo Nordisk as a weight-loss medication, was proven to reduce patients’ weight by 15% within 16 months. 

It was also found to cut heart-related deaths by 20%, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Novo Nordisk’s drugs have since become hugely popular in the U.S., with North America accounting for 95% of Wegovy sales in the third quarter of 2023. 

That demand has caught producers, who had been manufacturing for a previously small customer base, off guard.

Novo CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said sales of Wegovy, which hit $900 million in the last quarter, would have been higher were it not for shortages of the drug, which costs uninsured patients $1,349 per month.

As a result, diabetic patients are observing dwindling supplies of GLP-1 drugs that used to be in healtjhy supply. Campaigners, including Diabetes U.K., have now urged clinicians only to prescribe the drugs to patients living with type 2 diabetes until supply shortages are fixed.

According to Novo’s Jørgensen, those shortages will likely stretch into 2024 in the U.S.

“I just have to acknowledge that the demand is so strong that despite the fact that we are ramping up manufacturing and producing more and more, there will be times where patients rush at the same time to the same pharmacies and there’ll be shortages,” Jørgensen told Reuters in August.

Last week, Novo said it planned to invest 42 billion kroner ($3.8 billion) to expand its manufacturing facilities at its Danish site of Kalundborg to help it continue to grow into a market that could reach $100 billion by 2035.

European countries clamping down

If Germany bans exports of Ozempic, it will continue a new trend of rationing the weight loss-aiding drug across Europe.

There are already several countries across the continent that have banned the export of Ozempic, including Austria and France, Reuters reported, citing Affordable Medicines data. The publication reported that other countries, including Portugal and Spain, have rules that make exporting the drug extremely difficult.

On Tuesday, Belgium moved to ban the prescription of Ozempic for weight loss until next summer, the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products said in a statement, as the country fights its own supply shortage.

Novo Nordisk has already moved to reduce the strength of dosage of its GLP-1 drugs so it can ramp up shipments.  

“We understand how frustrating this situation is for the communities we serve and appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to navigate significant demand for Wegovy,” the company says on its website. 

“Please know our commitment to the obesity community is a long-term one and we are investing significantly to build capacity to meet this increasing demand.”

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