Germany considers banning the export of Novo Nordisk's Ozempic

How popular have Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide drugs become for weight loss in Europe?

The craze is such that Germany’s drug regulator is considering banning the export of Ozempic, according to a report in Der Spiegel magazine.

With supplies running short throughout Europe and Novo struggling to meet the mushrooming demand, some patients with type 2 diabetes are having difficulty finding treatment.

Ozempic was approved by the FDA in 2017 for those with diabetes. But because the GLP-1 drug controls blood sugar, it can also trigger weight loss, which has led doctors to prescribe it off label, fueling the demand surge.

Karl Broich, president of the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices, told Der Spiegel that because Ozempic is less expensive in Germany, it exports the drug to the United States and other countries in Europe.

“We are currently in talks with lawmakers about what we will do if the current measures and the public messages don’t show an effect. We would then think about imposing an export ban so that enough remains in the country for the patients that need it,” Broich said.

Novo also manufactures Wegovy, which was approved in 2021 for obesity and is the same compound as Ozempic. But supplies of Wegovy are even more scarce than Ozempic.

“We need the drug for the care of diabetes patients and not as a lifestyle drug,” Broich added about Ozempic.

Earlier this week, Belgium limited use of Novo’s GLP-1 drugs to those with type 2 diabetes and to weight-loss patients with a BMI of at least 35 or those with a BMI of at least 30 and one related co-morbidity.

In July, the U.K. warned of shortages of the GLP-1 drugs and called on doctors and private online pharmacies to prescribe Ozempic only to type 2 diabetes patients. It also told prescribers not to start new type 2 diabetes patients on Ozempic until the shortage was resolved, with a prediction that it would extend at least midway through 2024.

Last week, Novo announced an investment of 42 billion Danish kroner ($6 billion) to expand its active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing site in Kalundborg, Denmark, which produces semaglutide.

Novo is competing with Eli Lilly in the weight loss arena. Last week, Lilly gained approval for the obesity treatment Zepbound, which is the same formula as its type 2 diabetes drug Mounjaro, which was approved for type 2 diabetes in May of last year. Like Novo, Lilly also is struggling to meet demand despite massive investment to expand manufacturing capacity.