BELGIUM — Belgium is deliberating on a temporary ban on Novo Nordisk’s diabetes treatment, Ozempic (semaglutide), for weight loss purposes due to an ongoing shortage of the medicine, as reported by Reuters.

The potential ban, proposed by Belgium’s federal health minister Franck Vandenbroucke, would be in effect for a duration ranging from a few weeks to several months, contingent upon the availability of Ozempic.

A working group, comprising representatives from the government, the pharmaceutical industry, insurers, distributors, and pharmacists, is scheduled to convene on Wednesday to assess the necessity and feasibility of implementing the ban.

Vandenbroucke emphasized the need for a more robust approach, stating, “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.”

Recognizing the potential benefits of Ozempic for individuals suffering from morbid obesity, Vandenbroucke stressed the importance of a decisive and legal signal, as mere recommendations have proven insufficient.

Ozempic’s active ingredient, semaglutide, functions as a peptide therapeutic mimicking the GLP-1 hormone.

By activating its corresponding receptor, semaglutide induces the release of insulin in response to elevated blood sugar levels. This dual mechanism makes semaglutide effective for both glucose control and weight management.

Semaglutide also serves as the primary component in Novo’s weight-loss drug, Wegovy, approved in the U.S. in June 2021.

The overwhelming demand for Wegovy quickly outpaced its supply, leading to production challenges for Novo.

In December 2021, the company faced manufacturing issues with a third-party service provider responsible for filling syringes for Wegovy pens, temporarily halting deliveries.

As a consequence, Novo fell short of its supply targets for the first half of 2022, impacting the initiation of treatment for new patients.

Despite initial plans to meet U.S. demand in the latter half of 2022, ongoing manufacturing challenges prompted a reevaluation of the product’s European launch.

Wegovy eventually debuted in Germany in July 2023, marking its entrance into a significant European market.

In the United Kingdom, Wegovy became available in September 2023; however, Novo continued to grapple with the escalating demand for the weight-loss therapy.

Last month, the U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care took measures to address the situation, banning the use of Ozempic for weight loss and instructing doctors to restrict prescriptions to individuals with type 2 diabetes.

The supply constraints and subsequent regulatory responses highlight the complex challenges faced by pharmaceutical companies in managing global demand for critical medications.

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