Belgium Eyes Short-Term Ban on Novo’s Ozempic for Weight Loss Amid Shortage

Novo Nordisk_iStock, hapabapa

Pictured: Novo Nordisk's office in California/iStock, hapabapa

Belgium is considering temporarily prohibiting the use of Novo Nordisk’s diabetes treatment Ozempic (semaglutide) to help with weight-loss in people with obesity as the country grapples with the continued shortage of the medicine, Reuters reported on Tuesday. 

The ban would last from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the availability of Ozempic, according to Begium’s federal health minister Franck Vandenbroucke. A working group on the availability of medicines—including representatives from the government and pharma industry, insurers, distributors and pharmacists—will convene Wednesday to decide if the ban should be implemented.

“We have told doctors that they must reserve this drug for their patients who have type 2 diabetes, but we see that this strategy does not work,” Vandenbroucke said, adding that he recognizes the need for further discussions on the matter since Ozempic “can also be useful for people who suffer from morbid obesity.”

“I am convinced that we need a strong and legal signal because simple recommendations are not enough,” Vandenbroucke added.

Ozempic’s active ingredient semaglutide is a peptide therapeutic that mimics the GLP-1 hormone and activates its corresponding receptor to trigger the release of enough insulin in response to high blood sugar levels. This mode of action allows semaglutide to be an effective agent for both glucose and weight control.

Semaglutide is also the main component of Novo’s weight-loss drug Wegovy, which was approved in the U.S. in June 2021. The weight-loss therapy was immediately met with strong demand that quickly outpaced its supply and Novo’s production capabilities.

In December 2021, Novo announced that a third-party service-provider, responsible for filling the syringes for Wegovy pens, ran into issues regarding Good Manufacturing Practices and would no temporarily have to stop deliveries.

As a result, Novo said it would fall short of the company’s supply targets for the first half of 2022, meaning that “few new patients are expected to be able to initiate treatment.”

At the time, Novo said that it would be able to meet the U.S. demand in the latter half of 2022. However, manufacturing problems persisted for the company, forcing it to rethink launching the product in Europe. Wegovy launched in Germany in July 2023, marking its “first big European market,” according to a Reuters report.

Semaglutide hit U.K. shelves in September 2023 but Novo continued to struggle with meeting the surging demand for the weight-loss therapy. Last month, the U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care banned the use of Ozempic for weight loss and told doctors to restrict its prescription to type 2 diabetes.

Tristan Manalac is an independent science writer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. He can be reached at tristan@tristanmanalac.com or tristan.manalac@biospace.com.

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