Obesity drug shortage expands to Saxenda as Novo Nordisk warns of limited supply for 2023 and beyond

After Novo Nordisk’s popular obesity medicine Wegovy went into short supply, people turned to the company’s first-generation weight-loss drug, Saxenda, for treatment. Now, the company is struggling to handle demand for that product.

Saxenda will have limited availability through the end of 2023 because of surging demand, according to an update posted Tuesday on the FDA’s drug shortage list. It appears the problem might last longer than just this year, too.

In a statement to Fierce Pharma, a Novo Nordisk spokesperson said the company continues to see demand for Saxenda increase “at a substantial rate.” Even though the company is shipping all its available injections to wholesalers and retail pharmacies, it anticipates “many patients will have difficulty filling their Saxenda prescriptions for the remainder of 2023 and beyond.”

The spokesperson wouldn’t comment on whether Novo expects the Saxenda’s shortage will affect Victoza, a type 2 diabetes treatment that contains a lower dose of the same liraglutide ingredient because the two products have different indications.

Liraglutide is a weaker GLP-1 agonist than Novo’s semaglutide, which is used in Wegovy for weight reduction and Ozempic for diabetes. Ozempic has also faced shortages as some people looking to lose weight have turned to it as an alternative.

Novo noticed a surge in demand for Saxenda at least a year ago when Wegovy hit an early manufacturing hurdle. First approved by the FDA in late 2014, Saxenda saw sales jump 52% in 2022, reaching 10.7 billion Danish krones ($1.6 billion).

Saxenda’s strong run is continuing into this year as its sales have already hit 3.3 billion Danish krones in the first quarter alone.

With Saxenda’s limited supply, Novo encourages patients to discuss alternative treatment options with their doctors, the spokesperson said. The problem is, other existing obesity therapies have their own supply issues.

Facing booming demand, Novo said in May that it was temporarily reducing U.S. supply of low doses of Wegovy, or starter doses, to limit the number of new patients and to ensure that existing patients can get their meds. The Wegovy entry on FDA’s drug shortage list, updated in May, shows limited supply of Wegovy at 0.25mg/0.5mL, 0.5mg/0.5mL and 1mg/0.5mL through September, while the higher doses 1.7mg/0.75mL and 2.4mg/0.75mL are available.

To further rein in demand, Novo hit the brakes on Wegovy marketing efforts in May. This includes halting all local television advertising, postponing the rollout of a national TV advertising campaign and adjusting promotional efforts to doctors.

Meanwhile, after briefly restoring supply in February, Eli Lilly slipped back into constrained supply for its Mounjaro, which is only approved as a diabetes treatment but has shown strong clinical data in obesity. The latest Mounjaro shortage will cause “intermittent back orders” for three of the six dosing strengths through mid or the end of July, according to the FDA’s drug shortage information updated last month.

Both Novo and Lilly have been investing heavily in capacity expansions. In late 2021, Novo unveiled a $2.58 billion plan to build three new manufacturing facilities and expand its sprawling site in Kalundborg, Denmark, mostly to increase its capacity to make active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). Last month, the Danish company pledged $2.3 billion to expand manufacturing at its API site in Hillerød, Denmark to enable the production of future medicines.

As for Lilly, the Indianapolis pharma in April said it will add $1.6 billion to its new manufacturing sites in the LEAP Innovation Park in Boone County, bringing the total to $3.7 billion in the largest single-site investment in the company’s history.