Takedowns of websites peddling fake GLP-1 drugs jump as counterfeiters board weight loss bandwagon

Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk faced a third rival for the GLP-1 market last year: counterfeiters. BrandShield helped remove more than 250 websites peddling the blockbuster medicines in 2023, the cybersecurity company told Reuters, as the weight loss therapies emerged as a major focus of anticounterfeit activity. 

The GLP-1 hype train created opportunities for counterfeiters by fueling demand from people who were unable to get legitimate Lilly and Novo drugs, either because the drugs were in short supply or because they didn’t meet the indicated requirements for use. Regulators have found fake and substandard GLP-1 medicines in supply Australia, Europe and the U.S.

BrandShield is involved in finding online sources of counterfeit drugs. Directed by the industry-backed Pharmaceutical Security Institute, the company collects evidence that websites are selling fake drugs and shares the information with the service providers that host the sites. 

Last year, the work led to the removal of 1,655 websites that were selling counterfeit drugs, compared to 434 in 2022 and 850 in 2021. GLP-1 drugs contributed to the uptick in activity. The number of sites found to be selling the popular diabetes and weight loss drugs rose from 34 in 2022 to more than 250 last year. Unlike in 2022, BrandShield targeted all GLP-1 drugs last year.

Websites selling fake GLP-1 drugs accounted for more than 90% of the 279 sites that BrandShield helped to shut down for selling metabolic disease treatments. No other drug class dominated a therapeutic area like GLP-1 dominated the metabolic space, BrandShield told Reuters.

The surge in sites selling fake GLP-1 drugs made metabolic disease the second most active area for online takedowns last year. Sites selling alimentary medicines such as stomach ulcer drugs led the way, with the cybersecurity firm helping to close more than 600 websites involved in that space. 

Lilly appears to have taken note of the threat fakes could pose to its business. The drugmaker’s financial filing for 2022 featured two fleeting references to counterfeits. The number jumped to seven in the 2023 edition, which Lilly used to warn investors that counterfeit or illegally compounded drugs could harm its business and its actions to curb the trade “may be costly or ineffective.”