Novo Nordisk's obesity drug Wegovy to be provided to more patients under UK pilot program

The rush to provide revolutionary weight-loss drugs to obese patients has reached the U.K.

On Wednesday, the government unveiled a two-year pilot program that will allow Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy to be given to more overweight participants, even though the treatment has yet to be launched there.

The £40 million ($50 million) initiative comes three months after the U.K.’s price watchdog, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), recommended the drug for obese patients with one related condition. Use through the National Health Service (NHS) however, is limited to hospital settings and can be gained only by way of a doctor’s referral.

The pilot program will reduce waiting lists for the GLP-1 drug and relieve “huge” pressure on the NHS, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a release.

“Using the latest drugs to support people to lose weight will be a game-changer by helping to tackle dangerous obesity-related health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer,” Sunak added.

Still uncertain is when Wegovy will become widely available. Novo Nordisk has struggled to meet demand for the product because of manufacturing issues. The company recently rationed its supply of starter doses in the United States. It also has suspended its advertising in hopes of tamping down demand.

Eli Lilly’s GLP-1 diabetes drug Mounjaro (tirzepatide) is another likely alternative to be used in the pilot program, the U.K. said, even though it has yet to be approved anywhere for obesity.

Clinical trials have shown that Wegovy and Mounjaro—when prescribed along with diet modification and exercise—can help patients lose about 15 percent of their weight in one year.

There were more than 1 million hospital admissions for conditions related to obesity in the U.K. from 2019 to 2020. The disorder costs the NHS roughly £6.5 billion ($8.1 billion) per year, it said.

The NHS added that it is working to implement recommendations from NICE to make obesity treatments available to patients through established specialist weight management services, subject to negotiating a secure long-term supply.

“Pharmaceutical treatments offer a new way of helping people with obesity gain a healthier weight and this new pilot will help determine if these medicines can be used safely and effectively in non-hospital settings as well as a range of other interventions we have in place,” Sir Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said in a statement.

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